Allegations have now been made that the Indigenous man whose arrest sparked a riot at the northern Queensland town of Aurukun on Tuesday night was assaulted by police.

Although there no doubt local factors at play, the broader context for the incidents at Aurukun is the complete breakdown of trust between the Indigenous community and police in the wake of the mishandled death in custody of Mulrinji Doomadgee on Palm Island.

The Queensland Government must itself bear part of the blame for this. The failure of the DPP, Leanne Clare, late last year to recommend charges against Senior Sergeant Peter Hurley after the Deputy State Coroner found that he was responsible for Mulrinji’s death was handled appallingly. Peter Beattie completely misread the initial mood of both Palm Islanders and supporters in the broader Indigenous and non-Indigenous community when he called for people to “move on” and accept the “umpire’s verdict”.

The decision to review the DPP’s decision, and the subsequent public arguments over who should do the job, only kept the issue alive over the Christmas holidays. No doubt Premier Beattie and Attorney-General Kerry Shine hoped that the temperature would drop when Indigenous leaders welcomed the appointment of Sir Laurence Street.

But questions have been raised by Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett as to whether the rebadged “second opinion” will now examine any of the issues that go to the broader systemic problems surrounding Indigenous people and the justice system in Queensland.

The answer is probably not.

If that does prove to be the case, Beattie’s government may soon have to choose between more riots and distrust and opening a can of worms by comprehensively reviewing police culture and legal processes.

Peter Fray

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