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Indigenous protest in Brisbane today

by Dave Riley

The Queensland Police Union (QPU) has launched a series of radio advertisements that accuse the state Labor government of political interference in the case of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. A jury returned a verdict of not guilty for Hurley on June 20 in the Townsville Supreme Court. Hurley had been charged with the assault and manslaughter of Mulrunji Doomadgee, a 36-year-old aboriginal man, at the Palm Island police watch-house in November 2004.

The QPU's radio advertisements argue that the prosecution of Hurley proceeded only because the state government sought a second opinion on whether to charge Hurley after the Director of Public Prosecutions found there wasn't enough evidence to do so despite a coronial inquest finding that Hurley's actions were responsible for Mulrunji's death.

In reality, the review was a victory won through a militant protest campaign by Queensland Murris.

In the wake of Hurley's acquittal, the Doomadgee family may seek restitution or punitive damages through civil action against the police or the state government. In the time since Mulrunji's death, his mother has died and his adolescent son has committed suicide.

Indigenous community members gathered in Brisbane's Musgrave Park on June 22 to consider the Hurley verdict, but also to develop a collective response to the state government moves to abolish the independence of indigenous community councils.

The gathering's convener, Sam Watson, made it clear that the community would not let the Hurley decision go unchallenged. Watson, who is also the Socialist Alliance's Indigenous spokesperson, told Green Left Weekly that activists will campaign for Labor Premier Peter Beattie to convene a Royal Commission "into every single aspect of the arrest and subsequent death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee".

Watson said that in the 16 years since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made 360 recommendations, "a large raft of those recommendations are still to be implemented. Chris Hurley should not have taken his prisoner to the watch-house. This man had been detained for a minor offence. He should have been taken to the diversionary centre. But 90 minutes later he was dead. [Hurley] has to answer for that, the Queensland police service has to answer for that."

Aboriginal activist Wayne Wharton told GLW that the Hurley verdict was not a surprise "it always goes the copper's way".

Representatives from Indigenous councils across Queensland believe the new state plan of enforced restucturing and amalgamation of local government councils will further disenfranchise Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

Reverand Alex Gator told the gathering of more than 100 elders and other community members, "We're going back to the old mission days". Elder Bob Weatherall said that a united response was urgently needed. "A national summit of a Aboriginal leaders in this country is needed", he said.

The meeting decided to take part in a national indigenous mobilisation planned for July 14. They will take their protest to Canberra as part of an ongoing campaign in response to attacks on Indigenous identity and land rights.

Following the meeting, a militant march of 250 people to state parliament was held.

Protest images:



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