8 February 2005

HREOC INTERVENES IN PALM ISLAND CORONIAL INQUEST

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) was today granted leave by the Queensland State Coroner to appear in the Coronial Inquest into the death of a man in custody on Palm Island last November. The Coroner ordered that the deceased man should be referred to as Mulrunji, his tribal name.

Leave was granted to the Commission at a pre-inquest conference held on Palm Island. The inquest will commence on 28 February 2005.

The Commission intends to make submissions on systemic issues surrounding arrest and detention as they affect Indigenous people. In particular, HREOC will seek to raise the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, expressed his and the Commission's condolences to Mulrunji's family.

"One of the main lessons from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is that to reduce Indigenous deaths in custody we must deal with the over-representation of Indigenous people who are incarcerated," Mr Calma said.

"Therefore, we will be asking the Coroner to consider the reasons for Mulrunji's arrest and detention and whether any other options may have kept him out of custody in the first place."

The Commission will also make submissions on the adequacy of assessment and supervision of people who are held in police custody.

"We should always be looking for ways to improve practices and prevent potential future deaths," Commissioner Calma said.

HREOC President, John von Doussa QC, said that the Commission has historically played an important role in attempting to ensure that people in all forms of detention have had their human rights respected.

"While issues involving people held in immigration detention have rightly received much attention in recent years, this tragedy reminds us that the issue of Indigenous deaths in custody is a continuing one that remains to be resolved by governments," the President said.

Last updated 8 February 2005.