Police ordered to pay compo under Racial Discrimination Act

A FEDERAL Court Judge has found Queensland Police acted unlawfully in the way they treated people on Palm Island in the wake of riots in the small indigenous community in 2004. 

The case, which was decided in the Federal Court today, saw three members of the Island's Wotton family awarded a total of $220,000. 

The trouble on the Island started on November 19, 2004 when a resident known in death as Mulrunji died in police custody. 

Subsequent unrest led to riots on the Island and on November 27 and 28 between 88 and 111 special response police, masked and carrying firearms were sent in to arrest a number of residents. 

Also drawn into the case was the fact one of the officers present when Mulrunji died was not sent off the Island or treated as a suspect by investigators - in the first instance. 

"I have found that police acted in these ways because they were dealing with an Aboriginal community, and with the community of Palm Island in particular," Federal Court Judge Debbie Mortimer noted after stating the officers involved had breached section 9(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act. 

The law in question states: " It is unlawful for a person to do any act involving a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of any human right or fundamental freedom in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

Damages of $95,000 were awadred to Lex Wotton who was tasered in his family home when special response officers stormed the island. 

Mr Wotton's family members Cecilia and Agnes were awarded $115,000 and $10,000 respectively. 

"In my reasons, I have indicated that I will not order an apology, but the Commissioner of Police should be required to consider whether it is appropriate to make an apology to the residents of Palm Island," Ms Mortimer stated. 



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