“‘Small Government’ does not have to mean ‘small minded’”
Class Action looming against Newman Government”
The Queensland Crown Solicitor’s office on 16 May 2013, communicated the Queensland Government’s rejection of the Palm Islanders’ offer to resolve complaints of conduct amounting to sustained institutional racism, perpetrated by the Queensland Police Service and organs of the State Government.
This followed, by 15 months, a two (2) day confidential Conciliation Conference conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission in Townsville in February 2012. The Palm Islanders legal team was headed by prominent Human Rights Lawyer and former Federal Court Justice, the Hon Ron Merkel QC instructed by a team of lawyers from Levitt Robinson Solicitors of Sydney, led by Stewart Levitt.
The Conciliation Conference occurred just after the 2012 Queensland State Elections had been called so the Bligh Government was then in caretaker mode.
High hopes were held for the “new broom” Premier, Campbell Newman to bring about reform and social change in race relations in Queensland.
The matter was due to go before the Queensland State Cabinet following the election of the Newman Government and the Palm Islanders waited patiently for fifteen (15) months for a response to their settlement offer, being assured repeatedly, almost every month by the State Crown, that “next month” a decision would be announced.
In the meantime, a “don’t rock the boat” approach was taken by the Palm Islanders’ lawyer, Stewart Levitt of Levitt Robinson, even in the face of what, with the benefit of hindsight, appeared to have been grave auguries.
“The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott has vowed to appoint himself Minister for Aboriginal Affairs if elected Prime Minister and may yet inject dynamism into the project of bringing about progress in the quality of the lives of Indigenous Australians.
“We can only hope that the Federal Coalition will perform much better than its State colleagues,” Stewart Levitt commented.
To-date, Premier Newman’s record on indigenous affairs has been woeful.
On 17 October 2012, despite all the cuts that the Newman Government was making in public spending, the Premier announced a “$600,000.00 plus” pay-out to the Queensland Police Union to cover the legal costs of defending Senior Sergeant Chis Hurley, charged with the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in custody and concerning whom, successive tribunals had put “two bob each way” over his and the Police’s role in Mulrunji’s death, and its severely compromised Police investigation and prosecution
- The ABC announced “Queensland Government to pay union’s Palm Island Legal Bill”. “This showed that the Newman Government was no different to its predecessors in being in thrall to the Queensland Police Union, ’who have been calling the shots in Queensland for decades”, according to Levitt.
- Levitt said that the pay-out to Police was “a reward for what was, at best, either grave incompetence or corruption, involving loss of life”.
- This was followed, soon after, by a State Government announcement, on 13 December 2012, of “Job Cuts on Palm Island”, slammed by Shadow Minister of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Curtis Pitt, M.P. as “a disgrace”. The Premier cut thirty (30) jobs and $500,000.00 in grant money from Palm Island, even while the Premier was investing over $120,000.00 in new chairs for his (the Premier’s) office.
- Next came another example of third class treatment of Aboriginal children on Palm Island, when nine-year-old Palm Island boy, William Bligh, died from medical neglect of his undiagnosed pneumonia. “Pneumonia is not the kind of condition that is hard to diagnose”, Levitt commented.
According to Levitt, Palm Island is a Third World territory in a First World nation.
The State Government has even begrudged building a swimming pool or a sports oval for the 3,000 indigenous Australians, located 70km off the Townsville Coast. There is nothing for the people to do. The Premier’s answer:-
The great Newman Reform announced in March, 2013, to “fight for the ‘right to drink’ on Palm Island”. The good Premier Newman had announced a Government review of the Alcohol Management Program for Indigenous People. No doubt, alcoholics all over Queensland would toast the Premier.
“If Premier Newman’s hope is that he will be spared because indigenous people will just drown their sorrows or drink themselves into oblivion, it will be a vain hope. We will continue to remind the State Government of its responsibilities to indigenous Queensland and if necessary, will ask the AHRC President to terminate our complaints, so that we can bring a representative action against the State of Queensland, claiming compensation and other remedies.
“The Hon Ron Merkel QC has continued to offer his services, as will the firm of Levitt Robinson. Proceedings will be commenced early in the next financial year, if the Australian Human Rights Complaint is not resolved prior”.
In February 2012, the citizens of Palm Island, with Lex Wotton and members of his family as their representatives and fronted by a legal team headed by the Hon Ron Merkel QC, former Federal Court Judge and Human Rights Advocate, instructed by Levitt Robinson Solicitors, over two (2) days, participated in the conciliation of complaints brought by them to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHCR), considered appropriate for conciliation by the AHCR’s President. Other parties to the conciliation conference included the legal representatives of the State of Queensland with the present Queensland Police Commissioner, then Deputy, Ian Stewart. The complaints being conciliated were to the effect that the State of Queensland had discriminated against Palm Island’s citizenry:
- by unlawfully discriminating in the way that policing services were provided to Palm Islanders, particularly investigative and law enforcement services.
- by showing disrespect for their grief and indignation over the death in custody of their kinsman, Mulrunji Doomadgee, which occurred on 19 November 2004 including, with respect to the foiled investigation of his death by Police and their failure to enforce the law to protect Aboriginal life.
- between 26 and 28 November 2004, by subjecting members of the Palm Island citizenry to arbitrary and unlawful interference with their rights to privacy, family and home, in contravention of Section 9 of the Racial Discrimination Act and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – by reference to the unlawful “State of Emergency” proclaimed by Police at that time, in the wake of the Palm Island Riots. The riots were the community’s response to the evidence of the lack of good faith shown by the Queensland Government and Police in their approach to investigating and prosecuting responsibility for the death in custody of Mulrunji.
According to the Palm Islanders’ legal team, these complaints together, evidence institutional racism as practised by the Queensland State, reflected in the attitude of all persons with the responsibility of bringing justice to Palm Island, from the Premier down, and even reflected in judgments of the Queensland Court of Appeal
LEVITT ROBINSON SOLICITORS
STEWART A LEVITT
Principal Solicitor & Advocate