In 1977 the largest mass arrest of people in Australian history occurred in Queensland. The Bjelke Petersen government was in power. This government ruled with an iron fist. Aboriginal people were subject to the racist Queensland Acts which confined many Murris to aboriginal reserves under the strict control of government authorities and the churches (see map for the divisions controlled by church and state ) .
In 1977, ordinary people rose up against these laws and other laws used against workers, women and aboriginal people. At a rally in opposition to uranium mining and export on 22 October 1977, four hundred and eighteen (418) people were arrested near King George Square in what the marchers called the ‘valley of death’ in Albert Street.
At the time, Michael Shanahan was in his final year of law at Queensland University.
The assembly and march were declared illegal by police. Police rioted in the street against the ordinary people and arrested and detained 418 people for many hours in nearby lockups, watchouses, and in crowded vans and paddy wagons. This, only because people tried to exercise the right to demonstrate against uranium mining and export.
Thirty-one years later Judge Michael Shanahan has declared to a jury that an assembly on Palm Island after the death of Mulrunji was unlawful.
The Queensland justice system was unfair in 1977 and it is unfair still — Queensland law is unjust. It stated in 1977 and still states that you only need three (3) people to make a riot. To be in a ‘riot with destruction’ carries a maximum life sentence. Onetime, around midday 31 March 1978 to be precise, I was arrested for marching with others. I was charged with some street offences under the Qld Traffic Act— disobey direction and unlawful procession — together with some serious charges conspiracy to breach the peace in the night time, was one. The serious offences arose as a result of a police verbal fabricated after my street march arrest. But that is another story. The point of this story is that when I went to trial on the serious charges the District court judge, one of the Macrossan’s (I think) was required to rule on whether my arrest in the street march was lawful. His reply was blunt. He said: ‘I cannot see that it matters, whether the charges under the traffic act were valid, why wouldn’t he be guilty under the criminal code of breach of the peace given that he was involved in an unlawful procession?’
The law opposes what the judge calls ‘unlawful assembly’, especially when people are upset that one of their brothers has been killed by the police. The judge in this case has described when people came together in Police Lane on Palm Island to ask the police why Hurley had not been charged with Mulrunji’s murder and had not been sent from Palm Island. The judge said that an unlawful assembly, what he called ‘an agitated movement of people’; ‘accompanied by noise’; where people ‘are emotionally aroused’; and that may bring ‘fear of injury to a person (or) property’; He declared that this is ‘a breach of the peace’.
26 November 2004
The people were upset and mourning the loss of their brother. Yet the judge says that this could be a an ‘unlawful assembly’ and a ‘breach of the peace’. A funeral procession may contain noise, emotion, agitation. Yet people cannot question the death of their brother? How can this be? How many rocks were thrown on the roof of the police station? How many police were injured? One said he had a bruise under his gun belt and it was caused by a rock. How do we know this is true?
Roy Bramwell breaks down
Roy Bramwell was present in the Palm Island police station when Hurley killed Mulrunji. The court allowed a video of Roy Bramwell into evidence but only on a limited basis ‘to provide background’.
All the officers of the court spoke as if many of the witnesses to these events were still alive and did not explain. Roy Bramwell’s brother Patrick is dead, Mulrunji’s son is dead, his mother is dead. There was no explanation why Roy Bramwell would not be giving evidence. Not only did they show disrespect to a man who had died and his family but they have demeaned the aboriginal witnesses in the trial as being simple, unintelligent, lacking understanding. The judge, defence lawyer and prosecutor have been joking at the expense of aboriginal witnesses while Palm Island people witness from the back of the court.
Yet when Roy Bramwell spoke to the crowd on Palm Island, standing there alone at the microphone, he broke down crying as he told the crowd what he saw in the watchouse on 19th November 2004. He described how Snr Sgt Hurley had repeatedly punched Mulrunji while he was lying on the floor of the watchouse. At the same time Hurley was abusing Mulrunji saying: “Do you want more, Mr Doomadgee, do you want more?” Roy Bramwell went on to say: “If I’d have stood up and said something they’d have took me in the cell and done the same thing to me.”
A policeman killed a man in custody and walks free and yet the people mourning his death are still accused of riot with destruction. Many have already been sent to jail with sentences up to four years and now Lex Wotton faces even more.
The police accuse Lex Wotton of destruction of the police and courthouse, a police car and Hurley’s house. No one says he actually did those things. They say he was the ‘principal’ actor by inciting people to do those things. The crown have accused him of being the leader. The crown prosecutor got up in court and said ‘the police gave an honest account of what happened’.
What is a leader?
Then the prosecutor Cowen asked the jury what is a leader? A person who ‘gives clear concise instructions’. Mr Cowen says that Lex Wotton needed a mob to attack the police. But that was not a mob. It was people upset about the death of Mulrunji. The prosecutor says that Lex Wotton used the microphone to incite the people, yet he spoke only a few words and then sat down to listen to the others speaking on that day (26 November 2008).
The words he spoke were: “I’ve spoken to young people” “Things are gonna burn” — why is this not just a statement of fact?
After the mayor, Erikah Kyle, reads out the autopsy report saying that Mulrunji’s death was an accident Lex Wotton said “Let’s do something more than this”. Why not? Everything had been swept under the carpet and all that was being offered was acceptance of this report and for due process to be followed. Due process that excused Hurley and his police mates.
“We’ll decide when” Lex Wotton said. Why should people under threat be forced to submit? Yet the prosecutor suggests this is an example of ‘pre-planning’ of ‘riot with destruction’.
The police verballed Lex Wotton putting so much abuse in his mouth as to make him sound like a animal not a human being. YET IT WAS THE POLICE WHO WERE hurling ABUSE at THE PALM ISLAND RESIDENTS. This never came out in the trial. The jury was shown a video shot by a police cameraman with the sound turned off and the abuse by the police could not be heard. Another thing that did not come out was the fact that Lex Wotton had two shoulder reconstructions and could not have possibly wielded the Stilsons (pipe wrench) in the way that the police claim. They set out to make Lex sound like a brute savage.
Police sought to divide the Community.
Of the 17 witnesses brought by the crown to prosecute Lex Wotton, seven witnesses were aboriginal or Torres Trait Islander. The government had sought to divide the local council as Lex Wotton describes in the video above. Not only that the police were actively seeking out aboriginal informers. They sought to inflame the situation on the island after Snr Sgt Hurley killed Mulrunji. And now they have brought informers from the community into the court to testify against their brother. Shame on them.
No Right of Reply
The defence team had to go first in summing up to the jury even though it was answering a charge of riot brought by the Crown. For a description of what the defence barrister said see the National Indigenous Times article LEX WOTTON TRIAL: Defence and prosecution wrap up their cases. This gave the prosecution an unfair advantage. Unlike other states an accused person does not have automatic right of reply to the prosecution case. Under the Queensland Criminal Code Palm Islanders who were upset at the death in custody of their brother Mulrunji are accused of riot. There was no riot on Palm, people were mourning the death of Mulrunji and were asking questions of the authorities why he died.
The prosecution has accused Lex Wotton of being the principal person in the riot, of provoking three or more persons to take part in a riot (meaning the leader or person who incited others).
The defence lawyers have decided not to put Lex Wotton on the stand. He will not be able to give his version of the events on Palm island immediately after the death of Mulrunji and when the first autopsy said that his death was an accident. However in the court of public opinion he has given his version of those events. Please see them here, they last 50 minutes but be patient it is worthwhile and important to hear Lex Wotton out because what he has to say affects us all in Australia.
The words of Lex Wotton can not be heard or seen here by order of the court declaring that Lex be silent. There can be no justice without truth. And there can be no truth, unless someone rises up to tell you the truth No peace without justice!