Queensland’s Beattie Government has thus far seemed guilty only of staggering ineptitude in its administration of Indigenous affairs. However a report from Tony Koch in today’s Australian raises the stakes beyond mere incompetence, suggesting that the Government has deliberately suppressed a report which details the extent of Indigenous disadvantage in Queensland.

The report, prepared last year at the behest of former minister John Mickel, warned of the “urgent need to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples standard of living” and recommended “immediate and sustained action to reduce the disparity in all life stages”.

However, this damning document never saw the light of day. After racking up another crushing election victory in September of last year, Beattie moved quickly to abolish the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, merging its functions into the Department of Communities.

However, any post-election attempt by the government to downplay issues of Indigenous justice was foiled by saturation media coverage of the Coroner’s inquiry into the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island in November 2004.

Only weeks after the election, Queensland’s acting state coroner Christine Clements handed down her findings into the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee. which had occurred almost two years earlier. The Coroner concluded that the actions of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused the fatal injuries. Yet, Queensland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare found that Hurley had no charge to answer, describing the death as a “terrible accident”.

The public outrage that followed saw the Beattie Government in damage control, citing the independence of the DPP and attempting to tough things out. With the government bleeding badly, Attorney General Kerry Shine eventually wrote to the DPP advising her that a review of the decision would be “strongly supported” by Premier Beattie. Clare was unmoved, issuing a statement saying that if the case had gone to trial “no law abiding citizen…would have found this man guilty.”

The following day, Shine released an extraordinary statement, saying that Clare had made an “unexpected offer” to provide him with the file on the Palm Island death. Retired Queensland District Court judge, Pat Shanahan, was commissioned to conduct the review. However Shanahan stood down just days later when it became public knowledge that he had been part of the panel that appointed Clare as DPP in 2000.

In an effort to rescue the situation, the Beattie Government went beyond Queensland’s borders and appointed distinguished NSW jurist Sir Laurence Street to review the matter.

Street’s report is expected to be completed within weeks.

Then came the news yesterday that 24-year-old Mr Bramwell – who had shared Mulrunji’s cell on the night he died – hanged himself on Palm Island last Monday, amidst allegations that he had been subject to police pressure not to talk about events surrounding Mulrunji’s death. This further tragedy underscores the sorry tale of the Queensland Government’s mishandling of events.

With the ham-fisted bungling of the Shanahan appointment, and the tragic suicide of Bramwell, things have gone pear-shaped for the Beattie Government. The suppressed report obtained by The Oz suggests that the fruit is rotten to the core.

With the Government now haemorrhaging, and Indigenous leaders like Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine continuing to apply the blow-torch, perhaps only a Royal Commission will see public confidence fully restored.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey