The Queensland Government’s decision not to appeal a landmark racial discrimination case has opened the way for more than 100 Palm Island residents to seek compensation.
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced on Tuesday, the Government had abandoned its challenge to a Federal Court decision that found that Senior Queensland police had acted in a racially discriminatory manner in its dealings with the community in 2004.
The police actions occurred 12 years ago in the lead-up to and aftermath of a riot in the far North Queensland community of Palm Island, following the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee.
Lex Wotton and two of his family members were awarded $220,000 in compensation for the treatment they received from the Special Emergency Response Team (S.E.R.T.), acting on orders from senior Queensland police which were found to have discriminated against them on racial grounds.
Their lawyer, Sydney Solicitor, Stewart Levitt of Levitt Robinson said the Government’s latest decision meant at least 100 other Palm Islanders should be entitled to compensation under the Federal Court decision.
Mr Levitt said damages could range from as low as $5,000.00 to as high as $175,000.00.
” We have to prove the extent to which people have suffered,” he said.
Mr Levitt said he hoped the Palm Island community and State Government could reach a “fair and reasonable” resolution outside the courtroom.
“I have held out an olive branch to the Queensland government and asked ‘Why don’t we try to resolve the balance of the case by negotiation?” he said.
Levitt expressed the hope that Police Commissioner, Ian Stewart, would want to apologise to the people of Palm Island but said that he should not be ordered to do so:
“This is not about shaming anyone. It is about bringing communities together and healing old wounds.”
Mr Levitt said the government’s decision not to appeal meant Australia now had a Federal Court precedent on how police should deal with Indigenous communities.
“It sets a standard not just for Queensland police, but for police around the country. I am aware of current serious failures to address racism on the part ofWA Police in dealing with Indigenous cases in the Kalgoorlie/Boulder region”.
Lex Wotton said: “I’m relieved the matter had finally come to an end we can all now move on”.