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Racist 'justice' - Australia

Media Release: ATSIC = Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Commission

ATSIC welcomes A-G's appeal against controversial Cairns sentence - but says 'fundamental' questions still hang over justice system

29 September 1999

ATSIC welcomes A-G's appeal against controversial Cairns sentence - but says 'fundamental' questions still hang over justice system

ATSIC National Commissioner Colin Dillon has welcomed the Queensland government's decision to appeal against a "manifestly inadequate " sentence given by a Cairns judge to five teenagers who attacked a homeless Aborigine in a Cairns park.

Commissioner Dillon, who is also Australia's highest ranked indigenous commissioned police officer, said :

"I applaud the decision by Queensland Attorney -General, Matt Foley, to appeal against both the sentence and one of the key grounds the judge's sentencing decision was made on - the rejection of racial motivation."

Commissioner Dillon, says the appeal shows the attack will not go unpunished.

"I think it's a very common sense decision and I believe that it will be welcomed by the wider community.

" Also I think it will send a warning to the public that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated under any circumstances."

However, in statement released today, he also warned that the Cairns case "highlighted longstanding and 'fundamental 'questions and concerns about how the criminal justice system operates - not just in Queensland but across the country."

He says the fact that appeal had to be made at all, and that such a decision was handed down in the first place were ''serious concerns."

"These are issues that all our attorneys - general, police ministers, and justice ministers need to start addressing .

"It is time they have a deep hard look at the justice our so called criminal justice system is delivering."

He said Indigenous people had raised a range of concerns about the justice system for many years.

"We have been saying for a long time that there are two levels of justice here in Australia coming out of our criminal justice system.

"One for indigenous people, another for other Australians.

"This Cairns case highlights that, pretty clearly.

But he says as a result of the Cairns case , these same concerns and questions are now being raised by non-indigenous commentators such as Sydney media identity Mike Gibson.

Commissioner Dillon said most Australians would welcome the Attorney -General's decision to argue that the case judge had erred in deciding the attack was not racially motivated.

"In my view it is vital that this point be appealed."

"One of these young men is reported to have said, bragged, after the event 'I smacked a coon.'

"He did not say :' I smacked an itinerant.'

"So I think it would be pretty clear to most Australians what this attack was really about."

He said that some fundamental questions State and Federal ministers responsible for the criminal justice system need to address include:

"What is it that causes a bunch of young kids from apparently pretty good background and homes go out on the streets with baseball bats to try to beat someone -an Aboriginal man in this case, senseless?

"What is it that causes a pretty fair and decent man, Judge White, in this case, hand down a sentence like he did?

"And not see the discrimination, the contempt, the racism in the attitudes behind this horrible attack.

"Why is it we have a system that seems to let some white kids off with community service?

"Whereas indigenous people get arrested in huge numbers and go to gaol for public order offences," Commissioner Dillon said.

Craig Sproule
Office of Public Affairs - ATSIC

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