The highly contentious decision of Queensland DPP Leanne Clare not to charge Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley following the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island in November 2004 continues to reverberate. And while the Mulrunji ruling has the potential to cause a rift in the ALP, it has galvanised Indigenous Australia into an unprecedented level of unity.

I spoke last night to a gravely concerned Warren Mundine, National President of the ALP. Mundine described the DPP’s recommendation as a “disgrace” in light of the findings of the coronial inquest. “If the law isn’t capable of protecting people then you change the law,” he told Crikey.

Mundine, who will visit Palm Island on Wednesday evening to address a protest meeting, would not be mollified by suggestions that Hurley could reasonably continue to work as a police officer provided he was not stationed on an Indigenous community. “The Aboriginal community is everywhere,” he said. “It’s in Brisbane and it’s in Ipswich too.”

“It is an affront to Aboriginal people that Chris Hurley is still working as a policeman,” says Mundine. “There is no justice in Queensland for Aboriginal people. This harkens back to the days of Mississippi Burning.”

Fallout from the ruling threatens to cause a rift within the ALP. Queensland Labor Premier, Peter Beattie, apparently wishes that the whole thing would just go away. In a position which becomes more untenable by the day, he is telling anyone who will listen that he will have no truck with “political interference” in the performance of the DPP’s role.

Recently deposed federal deputy-leader, and the party’s new Indigenous Affairs shadow, Jenny Macklin, has also cautioned that the DPP is “independent of politics”. However, Indigenous NSW ALP parliamentarian and federal president-elect, Linda Burney, has said that the DPP should re-examine the matter.

If the ALP is split, the backlash from the Clare decision seems likely to engender an unprecedented level of unity amongst Indigenous organisations, galvanised by an outcome they regard as a betrayal. Support for further action is emerging not just from the “rights agenda” activists of the left, but from all points across the spectrum of Indigenous Australian politics.

Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, widely regarded as a conservative, has been unambiguous in his response to the DPP’s decision, saying that Clare was “driving Indigenous people to depths of despair.”

National Indigenous Council member Wesley Aird has a military background and is also a board member of the ultra-conservative Bennelong Society. Aird has suggested that the community of Palm Island is “just being kicked while they are grieving.”

The Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, has urged Premier Beattie to review the decision.

Peter Fray

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