Peter Beattie has one aspect of the Mulrinji affair, and the Police Union’s extraordinary reaction to the charges against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, bang to rights:
“He described the Mulrunji affair as one of the most significant challenges “to the public credibility of the justice system and our state” since the 1989 Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption.”
As Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett writes on his blog:
I was growing up and attending University through the height of the Bjelke-Petersen era in Queensland, when political street marches were illegal and the news regularly showed police dragging away protesters. I can recall the time people were arrested for praying in a city park. So I can’t help but feel a strong sense of irony at the reports over the last few days that Queensland Police Union members are planning a protest march on Parliament House. Police Union complaints about “political interference” also have to bring a wry smile, coming as they do from what is and has been the most politically powerful union in the state for many a year.
Bartlett also points out that police have not marched in the streets in the past when officers have faced serious charges relating to corruption and drug offences. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Indigenous deaths in custody fall into a separate category for the Police Union.
Beattie is picking up on public sentiment on this issue, which in another historical irony Bartlett has noted, is being reflected accurately by the Courier-Mail in its characterisation of the Police Union as a “law unto themselves”.
If, as Beattie suspects, the Police Union is using the charges against Hurley as a bargaining chip in its upcoming enterprise bargaining negotiations, the people of Queensland would also be quite entitled to see the Union’s newfound concern with resourcing issues in remote communities and Royal Commission recommendations as compounding the cynical self interest on show.
Many in Queensland are well aware that the endemic problems which marred the state and which were exposed in the Fitzgerald Inquiry were in large part due to a perception that the police were above the law.
If the Police Union thinks it is on to a winner with this public campaign, it’s likely that it will prove sorely mistaken. However badly handled the Mulrinji affair has been (and it’s been very badly handled), the place for determining Hurley’s guilt or innocence is in a courtroom, not on the streets. Beattie needs to be very clear about this indeed.