The family of the Palm Island Aboriginal man killed in custody refused to meet Queensland Premier Peter Beattie on his visit to the island yesterday. The family lawyer said the Mulrunji Doomadgee’s partner and his sisters did not want to meet with Beattie saying it would be a “waste of time”. Beattie’s emergency visit comes after the controversial ruling by the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) not to press charges against the police officer named by the coroner as responsible for the death.
36 year old Mulrunji Doomadgee died in the Palm Island police cells on 19 November 2004. Mulrunji was drunk but had no prior history of criminal activity. The coroner described his arrest as heavy-handed and unnecessary. The death caused a major riot on the island which was answered by a strong show of force by police dressed in full battle armour and carrying semi-automatic weapons.
After a sixteen month investigation Acting State Coroner Christine Clements concluded her investigation in September this year. She found that the police officer in charge Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused Mulrunji’s death. The matter was then referred to the DPP while Hurley was moved to the Gold Coast where he continued his duties as a police officer. Then on 14 December the DPP Leanne Clare announced her decision that Hurley would not be prosecuted. She overturned the coronial inquest findings and decided Mulrunji’s death was a “terrible accident” as a result of a “complicated fall” Clare went on to say “I act on the evidence and not emotion and my decisions have to be based on evidence that would be admissible in a criminal trial.”
The DPP decision was greeted with shock and anger on Palm Island. "I feel like my heart has been torn from my chest," said Valmai Aplin, Mulrunji’s sister. "I wanted to hear he was guilty and being charged with murder. But today he (Hurley) is walking free and will probably get paid a heap of compensation for stress." Peter Beattie urged the Palm Island community to accept the decision. "Can I say to the Mulrunji family and to the wider Palm Island community, I know this is not the decision you were hoping for," he said. "But just as with the independent coronial inquiry, we all must accept the independent decision of the DPP." His call was rejected by Palm Island Council chief executive Barry Moyle who said community members felt they have been denied justice.
To add insult to indigenous injury, the decision came just days after three Aboriginals imprisoned for their part in the riot had their sentences increased following an appeal by the state attorney-general. All three pleaded guilty in July o one charge of rioting and one was sentenced to 18 months jail while the other two were sentenced to a 12-month correction order to be served in the community. But the Queensland Court of Appeal upheld an appeal by Attorney-General Kerry Shine against the leniency of the sentences handed out to the trio in a two-to-one decision on 8 December.
Yesterday, a national day of protest was organised against the DPP decision. Thousands took part in protests in Brisbane, Townsville, Melbourne, Cairns and Palm Island. More than 1000 people attended the Brisbane rally before marching to state parliament. The TV personality Ernie Dingo spoke to the crowd and said “If you have authority, you tread on those below you. You shouldn't do that, it's just like having children and raising them, and that's what the Government's doing with the Aborigine. They think we are children and try to treat us as such. They have to realise it's the oldest culture in the world”.