Michael McKenna and Margaret Wenham
ABORIGINAL and Torres Strait Islander Policy Minister Liddy Clark may have to personally cover the travel expenses of activist Murrandoo Yanner for his intended trip to Palm Island.
Premier Peter Beattie has ordered that Ms Clark pay the air fares in the face of Mr Yanner's refusal to reimburse the costs and his failure to accompany Ms Clark.
Mr Beattie dismissed Opposition calls for Ms Clark's sacking but conceded he did not agree with her choice of Mr Yanner as a go-between with Palm Island residents.
"He's a terrible human being but somewhere along the line you've got to use some of their people to talk to the rest of their people to get some bloody common sense," Mr Beattie said.
He said he would accept Ms Clark's decision if it helped restore calm to Palm Island, the scene of riots since the resident Cameron Doomadgee died in the island watchhouse.
Mr Yanner, under investigation for inciting violence against police, flew from Brisbane to Townsville at taxpayers' expense on Thursday night. But he was not on Palm Island when Ms Clark arrived yesterday, her first visit since the riots on November 26.
Mr Yanner said he stayed away as a mark of respect to Doomadgee's mother, who died early on Thursday.
"It was not appropriate for me to go if I was going to be in meetings," he said.
Mr Yanner, a cousin of Mr Doomadgee, denied Ms Clark's claims that he and Carpentaria Land Council chief Brad Foster had agreed to pay back the air fares.
"I got no intention of reimbursing them," he said.
The cost of the air fare was $636 for Mr Yanner and $1139 for Mr Foster, who yesterday accompanied Ms Clark to Palm Island to meet community leaders.
Ms Clark defended her invitation to Mr Yanner and Mr Foster despite police outrage.
"In my position it is hugely important to speak and listen to everybody concerned, and Murrandoo Yanner and Brad Foster have close connections to the people of Palm Island," she said.
"I am not going to isolate things to one incident and my mind is working with people on Palm to get through these sad and tragic times."
Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said he "wouldn't want to see Murrandoo Yanner elevated to hero status or a high level of importance".
An inquest into the death of Doomadgee, 36, will be held early next year and a Crime and Misconduct Commission investigation is under way into the actions of police on Palm Island.