A failure at the top to redress injustice

Tony Koch

ONE of the most difficult jobs imaginable is to be a police officer in a remote indigenous community in Australia.
It takes a special kind of person to succeed. Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was obviously not that special kind of person.
Had he been, he would never have arrested a man who was drunk on a back street of Palm Island on November 19, 2004. He would have told him to go home.
An hour later that man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, was dead in his cell.
The most charitable view of Hurley's subsequent statements is that he omitted key facts.
The CMC report released yesterday details inappropriate interaction between Hurley and the police who initially flew in to investigate the cell death, including a cheery barbecue he hosted at his island quarters.
Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson accepted the course of action that had been adopted because he did not know of the lies and cover-up.
Atkinson has taken no action to redress the dreadful injustice that has resulted from this scenario. Worse still, he has tried to suppress details of the shoddy and irresponsible conduct of his officers. This was an occasion that called for a special brand of leadership -- the type that would come from a man who cherished his oath to administer justice without fear or favour.
He might have endeared himself to some of his hardline cops, the police union and to his political masters, but his response has fallen far short of what is reasonably expected by the public of Queensland.
Atkinson not only failed the test of integrity; he also failed the test of humanity in a case that called for a special brand of courage because the victim was one of our voiceless original Australians.