The system of independent prosecutors making the decisions about whether or not to put someone in the dock has generally been welcomed by Australia’s politicians. At the Federal and State level it is convenient not to have to take the responsibility when the public thinks things have gone wrong. Don’t blame me — the Director of Public Prosecutions makes the decisions.

Premier Peter Beattie in Queensland has been using this defence in recent days as Aborigines express their anger at DPP Leanne Clare ruling that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley not face charges over a death in custody. This is definitely one for the too politically hard basket. Upsetting the police union by having the Attorney General overrule Ms Clare is an even worse prospect for Labor than having another riot on Palm Island.

No doubt the Queensland Government would have preferred their DPP to temper her independence with a greater regard for public opinion in the manner of her original federal peer Ian Temby. Mr Temby believed that in dealing with public figures he should err on the side of sending even shaky cases to trial. A similar attitude towards a policeman roundly criticised by a coroner would perhaps have been appropriate.

Peter Fray

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