JAIL THE COPS & PRISON GUARDS WHO KILLED DAVID DUNGAY,
MS DHU, WAYNE MORRISON, TJ HICKEY, MULRUNJI
& THE MANY OTHER VICTIMS OF THE RACIST, RICH PEOPLE’S STATE!
It was a display of incredible bravery. After being tortured by sadistic prison guards for years on end from the age of thirteen, 19 year old Dylan Voller calmly and with great dignity testified about his ordeal to the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s youth detention system. It took extreme courage to do this for Voller is still in prison – now in Darwin’s adult prison. He is still being abused by the same prison system and guards that have tortured this Aboriginal youth over the last six years! His mother understandably fears for Dylan Voller’s life. In the lead up to giving his testimony, guards threatened him with violence. Yet he still gave his evidence in a composed and articulate manner. This has – for many Aboriginal people and other opponents of racist violence – made Dylan Voller a hero.
Voller described how he felt when he was tied by his neck, hooded and left shackled to a chair for up to three hours at a time. It was the image of this torture at Darwin’s Don Dale youth prison that triggered outrage from all decent people in this country. It caused worldwide anger too. The torture, shown on the ABC Four Corners program of 25 July 2016, was reminiscent of the invading U.S. forces’ torture of Iraqi prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Dylan Voller testified how he would get “dizzy from panicking” and vomited and wetted himself while hooded and restrained. He also gave new details of the abuse that he and other detainees suffered at the hands of prison guards. Often the guards would starve the prisoners and deny them water. Although the media and ruling class would like to pretend that there was only a problem at the Don Dale detention centre, Voller described similarly horrific treatment when he was in the Alice Springs youth lock up. There guards would humiliate youth by preventing them from going to the toilet, forcing many of the children to urinate into water bottles and then throw them out the next day. Voller described his own experiences:
“I’d been asking to go to the toilet for four or five hours and they kept saying no, and I ended up having to defecate into a pillowcase because they wouldn’t let me go to the toilet,” Voller said.
“There’s been other times I had to urinate out the door or back windows because they wouldn’t come down.”
ABC News Online, 13 December 2016
The July Four Corners program showed that the terrifying abuse of young, mainly Aboriginal boys, in NT youth prisons was not just a matter of isolated cases of torture but one of systematic brutality. Boys as young as 13 were locked up in a solitary confinement regime in Don Dale’s “Behaviourial Management Unit” for weeks upon weeks for all but a single half hour of every day. They were confined to hot, dark cells that stunk of faeces and urine. The cells had not only minimal air flow and little natural light but no running water. With guards often cruelly denying water to the imprisoned youth, that meant that the boys sometimes had to drink the urine from their own toilet bowls to survive.
The Four Corners documentary showed actual footage of prison guards using extreme violence against the imprisoned boys. Guards are not only caught on camera subjecting Dylan Voller to the Abu Ghraib-style hood and shackle torture but are shown repeatedly, over a five-year period, stripping Voller naked to humiliate him, aggressively holding the child down with their full body weight and brutally kicking and punching him. One former youth detainee even told how guards pressured other detainees to bash Dylan Voller, throw hot water and spit at him. No wonder he ended up attempting self-harm several times! Yet after all this, Voller remains imprisoned today. This despite his being due for parole release over a year ago! His mother, Joanne Voller, is leading a call for Dylan’s immediate release. This demand has understandably won much support from humane people nationwide. We add our voice to this just and urgent campaign. Free Dylan Voller immediately! Free all those who have been tortured in Australia’s hell-hole youth prisons!
The prison system’s torture of Dylan Voller was just part of the cruel terror campaign that has been unleashed on many detainees. The Four Corners documentary shows August 2014 footage of how guards at the Don Dale detention centre responded when 14 year-old, Jake Roper, became agitated. The young boy was spending his 15th straight day in solitary confinement in a hot, stinking cell in the prison’s infamous Behaviourial Management Unit. Roper got out of his individual cell and, with a broken light fitting, banged on the locked door, pleadeding with the guards to tell him when he was going to get out of solitary confinement. The prison guards first laugh at the boy’s distress and then unleash several rounds of tear gas at close range over an eight minute period. Using the Nazi policy of “collective punishment,” the guards gas not only Roper but all six of the boys inside the isolation unit. Video shows the guards laughing and cheering at the suffering that they have caused to the terrified children. This proved that the prison authorities and the Territory government lied when they announced to the media that six boys had “escaped” and rioted when, in fact, they had always remained locked inside the Unit. Video footage proves that the closest to ever actually rioting that the boys came was when they screamed out, “I can’t breathe” after the guards gassed them! It also casts serious doubt upon the mainstream media and government narrative concerning more recent so-called “riots” around the country such as at the Victorian youth detention centres in Malmsbury and Parkville. In the Parkville facility, 80% of the locked up children have been languishing on remand, that is they haven’t even been convicted of any crime yet, and are forced to endure cramped conditions “packed in like sardines” as a former Victorian commissioner for children has described their plight (The Age, 14 November 2016).
The footage of the gassing incident at Don Dale also confirms that the barbaric abuse of Aboriginal detainees was not just caused by a few rogue prison guards but was directed and encouraged from the very top of the racist state administration. NT Corrections Commissioner Ken Middlebrook is shown at the prison approving the use of the tear gas. Furthermore, he is caught on video footage responding to a question from a prison officer about whether they should “Gas the lot of them?” with an incitement to terrorise the children with an extremely large dose of gas. “Mate, I don’t mind how much chemical you use,” exclaims the Corrections Commissioner.
Any half decent person in this country who saw all this footage was completely outraged at this vision. The Turnbull government knows this and that is why they were quick to call a Royal Commission into NT youth detention centres following the Four Corners documentary. However, how insincere the Turnbull government are about actually ending the torture is illustrated by the fact that they consulted the then NT Chief Minister, Adam Giles, the man ultimately responsible for overseeing the abuse at NT youth detention centres, about what the terms of reference for the Royal Commission should be. That’s like the judges at the post-World War II war crimes trial asking Hermann Göring (the highest ranking surviving Nazi leader) what the terms of reference should be into their deliberations in Nuremburg! What the Liberal/National government, the ALP Opposition and other parliamentary parties mainly want from this Royal Commission is for the Australian state machine “to be seen to be” doing something in order to divert Aboriginal activists and other anti-racists from launching staunch militant protest action against the racist torture.
Racist State Brutality All Throughout Australia
Nearly all Aboriginal people who saw the Don Dale torture footage were furious. Yet receiving accounts of violent abuse of people in their community is something that Aboriginal people are often burdened with. They know all too well that authorities are meting out cruelty against their family and friends in custody – both children and adults – all throughout this country. One of the purposes of Turnbull’s Royal Commission is to obscure this by portraying the abuse seen in the revealed footage as an exclusively NT issue. That is why they restricted the terms of the Royal Commission to only look at youth detention centres in the Nothern Territory.
The August 2014 death of 22 year-old, Julieka Dhu, in police custody in WA highlights the murderous oppression that Aboriginal people right across Australia face. She died of a severe bacterial infection and pneumonia because police – and later medical staff – criminally prevented her from getting the medical care that she so desperately cried out for. When it comes down to it: they murdered her! To hide the cops’ brutal abuse of Ms Dhu, WA courts initially suppressed video footage of her imprisonment. When the footage was finally released two days ago – but with much of the sound and part of the video still censored – it showed police brutally handling her even while she was groaning in extreme pain and on the verge of death. In one taped incident a policewoman – supposedly checking on her health – yanks Ms Dhu violently by the arm and then cruelly leaves her to flop down and smash her head on the concrete cell floor. The cop does not even then check to see if Ms Dhu has been further injured. Later, when police finally take the dying woman to hospital, the footage shows the police handcuffing Ms Dhu and then dragging her along the floor. They treated her with far more disrespect than most humans treat animals! What police had done earlier was, however, even more harmful. The night before, Ms Dhu had cried out in terrible pain for help but police refused to take her to hospital claiming she was “faking it.” The next morning when the cop on duty told another detainee that, “she is trying to get out,” after the detainee confirmed that Ms Dhu had been screaming all night, the detainee retorted, “she’s really in pain.” Still police refused Ms Dhu medical attention. They continued to do so even after she vomited repeatedly for over an hour. Instead the cop in charge, Sergeant Rick Bond, bent near her and according to the other officer present, Shelly Burgess, whispered in Ms Dhu’s ear: “You are a fucking junkie, you have been to the hospital twice before, and this is not fucking on… you will fucking sit this out.” Burgess further testified that this officer in charge whispered so as not to be recorded (The Guardian, 21 March 2016). After all this, two of the officers centrally responsible for Ms Dhu’s death ended up being promoted!
As is all too typical, the coroner’s report into Ms Dhu’s death was a whitewash. Even while admitting that the police acted in an “unprofessional and inhumane manner,” the coroner’s report, released this month, recommended no charges be laid against any of the officers. In other words, cops’ inhumanity can cause a death of a young Aboriginal woman but still they will face no consequences for it … apart from being promoted! Consider the contrast with another case. In 2010, a doctor practising in Queensland, Dr Jayant Patel, was jailed for alleged negligence causing the deaths of patients. He was later cleared of causing the deaths on appeal and re-trial. We are not qualified to comment on whether there actually was any negligence or not on the part of Dr Patel. However, it is clear that his initial trial occurred before the backdrop of a witch-hunt style atmosphere full of racist undertones about an Indian-origin doctor causing the deaths of mainly white patients. Yet even if the allegations of incompetence were indeed true, the fact is that Dr Patel was initially sentenced to seven years jail (of which he served two years before winning on appeal) for causing deaths to patients that no one claimed were a result of any malice or hostility to any of the patients on his part. The crimes Dr patel had been accused of were not allegedly caused by ill-will towards patients clouding his judgement but merely allegedly caused by incompetence and negligence. For that he copped a seven year sentence. In stark contrast, the cops who so roughly treated Ms Dhu and murderously prevented her from receiving urgently needed medical treatment – not to mention the medical staff who earlier twice sent Ms Dhu back to the police lock-up – caused Ms Dhu’s death not merely because of incompetence but because of their prejudice, contempt and naked hostility towards her. For that they have received no criminal punishment at all! Such is the way that the scales of “justice” work in racist, capitalist Australia.
To add insult to a horrifying death, the WA coroner even found that: “I do not find that any of the HHC (Hedland Health Campus) staff or police were motivated by conscious deliberations of racism in connection with their treatment of Ms Dhu.” What rubbish! Outrageously, the coroner only recommended competency training of police officers in Aboriginal culture. Of course, it is fine for all officials to be educated about the rich culture of Aboriginal people. However, for such a “solution” to be highlighted in this and other cases where cops and screws get away without any accountability for causing a death in custody, is simply a quite deliberate diversion. How much does one need to know about a person’s culture to know that one should not deny a human being medical care when they are in terrible agony? Or to know that one should not allow a person’s head to fall onto concrete and if that happens one should at least check on their condition? Does a policeman need to know about Aboriginal culture to know that they should not beat a human being to death the way that the cop Chris Hurley murdered Palm Island Aboriginal man Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004? In cases where racist brutality has caused the deaths of people, to talk about “incompetence” or lack of cultural knowledge being the cause whitewashes the truth that these were murderous acts of racist cruelty – crimes that must be punished or else they become a green light for further racist state violence.
Racist Terror in Australia Is Getting Worse
WA premier Colin Barnett responded to the coroner’s report on Ms Dhu’s death by outrageously making excuses for the cops’ cruelty. He claimed that they faced “a difficult situation.” Barnett even argued that the police were “facing a lot of aggression” at the time even though none of the police themselves even tried to claim that Ms Dhu was ever aggressive (The Guardian, 18 December 2016). Going one step further in defending racist state brutality, the prime minister’s indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine, defended the torture of Dylan Voller: “It’s a tough job to go out every day and have people abuse you and spit on you – you’ve got to be able to restrain people.” He also had the hide to attack Dylan Voller himself: “Let’s not pretend he is innocent.” The truth is that Dylan Voller is the victim of a barbaric and racist “justice” system. He was thrown into youth detention at the age of eleven for relatively minor offences but was so brutalised and demoralised by years of being horrifically tortured, assaulted and humiliated that he was conditioned to commit more serious offences. This, in turn, became the pretext for the state authorities to ever more savagely abuse him. The dishonest narrative promoted by Warren Mundine and his co-thinkers, like Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton, is that Aboriginal people are the main cause of their own disadvantage and suffering: in other words, blame the victim. However, this is impossible to even pretend to do in the case of Ms Dhu. She committed no crimes against anyone. She was to be held in custody for four days because she was too poor to afford to pay fines from very minor alleged “offences” that she committed several years earlier. That she should even be fined for these alleged offences – such as “swearing” and “waving her finger in a police officer’s face” – let alone jailed is itself a reflection of the racist and anti-poor people bias in Australia’s “justice” system. However, even though the narrative promoted by the Warren Mundines, Noel Pearsons and Marcia Langtons simply does not stack up against the facts it is given huge airplay by the mainstream media. The big business and government-owned Australian media love such Aboriginal “leaders” because they play a major role in “justifying” the ruling class’ ongoing brutal oppression of Aboriginal people.
Indeed, if one only listened to the mainstream media, one would almost think that most Aboriginal people have the same outlook as Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson! Yet these people only represent a rather small section of the Aboriginal community – those few Aboriginal people who have managed to make it into privileged economic and social circles and are, thus, so loyal to the current social order that they share the same contempt for the Aboriginal masses as the racist white ruling class. You would not know this from the mainstream media but there are Aboriginal spokespeople with a million times more support amongst grassroots Aboriginal people than the Mundines and Pearsons. These are the new crop of feisty and eloquent Aboriginal rights activists. What is driving their emergence is the fact that the racist oppression of Aboriginal people is actually getting worse and worse. Over the last year alone, for example, the number of Aboriginal people imprisoned in Australian jails has increased by over 700 (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2016~Main%20Features~Aboriginal%20and%20Torres%20Strait%20Islander%20prisoner%20characteristics~5). Meanwhile, more Aboriginal children are being stolen from their families by “community services” authorities, there is an increase in redneck violence against Aboriginal people and the rate at which Aboriginal prisoners are being outright murdered – or otherwise dying due to the brutality of police or prison guards – is growing.
On 29 December last year, Aboriginal man David Dungay died at Sydney’s Long Bay jail after guards brutally acted towards him on the pretext that Dungay – a diabetic – was eating a biscuit! A large number of guards violently wrestled him to the ground and held him face down on a mattress. Even though he told guards that he couldn’t breathe, prison staff then injected Dungay with a strong sedative without even assessing his vital signs or checking his airwaves. They also violated standard procedures by failing to have any resuscitation equipment or antidote to the treatment present at the scene (http://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/indigenous-man-dies-after-being-restrained-by-nsw-prison-guards/). Shortly afterwards, Dungay turned purple and stopped breathing. As Mr Dungay’s mother, Leetona Dungay, described it:
“Straight out murder. They murdered my son…”
“They’ve got to be accountable for it.”
Hawkesbury Gazette, 8 September 2016
The NSW authorities moved into cover up mode. Corrective Services NSW rushed to immediately declare that police were not treating Dungay’s death as suspicious. They are so used to getting away with murdering Aboriginal people that they don’t even think that they need to even pretend to be fair. Meanwhile, only two of the four health staff involved in administering the sedative documented their role in the health records.
The murder of David Dungay has left his family devastated. However, they are courageously standing firm and demanding justice. David Dungay was only 26 years-old when he was killed and just three weeks away from being eligible for parole.
Seven months after Dungay was killed, Wiradjuri woman Rebecca Maher died in the Maitland police station less than six hours after being taken into police custody. Police detained Maher in the early hours of July 19 after she was walking the streets of Cessnock. They claimed that they believed Maher was intoxicated. Police did not arrest Maher but claimed that they took her into custody due to “concerns for her welfare.” Yet Maher’s family have now showed ABC media a report that indicates that Rebecca Maher had neither illegal drugs nor alcohol in her system!
Rebecca Maher’s death is more than highly suspicious. A person who is just 36 years-old and healthy enough to be walking along the street just six hours earlier does not suddenly drop dead due to natural causes! What points the finger at the police even more is their violation of a long-established procedure called the Custody Notification Service whereby, under NSW law, the police must notify the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) as soon as they take an Aboriginal person into custody. Not only did the police break the law by not immediately notifying the ALS of Rebecca Maher’s detainment, they did not do so until 24 hours after her death! Indeed, they did not even notify Maher’s family of her death until six hours after her passing. What were they covering up? And why did police even take Maher into “protective custody” in the first place when she was sober and by the police’s own admission had committed no offence warranting arrest? Over the last 228 years, police and prison guards have been notorious for raping Aboriginal women in custody – just as heads of Aboriginal reserves, masters of Aboriginal domestic servants and rural capitalist bosses of Aboriginal families toiling in agricultural industries were known to do the same to black women out of custody. The events surrounding the tragic death of Rebecca Maher are surrounded by uncertainty. But what is absolutely clear is that key questions remain unanswered about how Rebecca Maher died while in police custody.
Then on September 26 of this year, Aboriginal man, Wayne “Fella” Morrison died in hospital after being bashed by five prison guards at Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison three days earlier. By the time he was taken to hospital, Morrison had serious brain injuries. His sister reported that “he has bruises all over him” (NITV, 26 September 2016). He was not convicted of a crime but was about to face a court appearance through video link for charges he faced. The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement has said that, after being bashed, Morrison was not breathing for “some 50 minutes before ambulance officers resuscitated him” (The Advertiser, 26 September 2016).
The murderous mentality of the prison guards was shown up earlier by their denial of medical treatment for Morrison’s previous injuries. He sustained those injuries when assaulted shortly before his arrest. Furthermore, the information that the South Australian Correctional Services Department initially provided the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement shows that Morrison did not even receive medical treatment immediately after being bashed by the guards. However, the Department did a U-turn and is now claiming that Morrison was given immediate medical treatment by prison staff – even while admitting that an ambulance was not called straight away. Yet Morrison’s family and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement were neither informed of the incident, nor of the fact that Morrison was taken to hospital until some seven to ten hours afterwards. Indeed, the South Australian state officials and Labour premier Jay Weatherill have moved into overdrive mode to whitewash Morrison’s killing. For one, they have claimed that it was Morrison who first attacked guards and that the incident was a “violent altercation,” as if the clash between a single inmate and five guards is some kind of even fight. Meanwhile, the ALP’s Weatherill and the Murdoch media in particular have sought to demonise Morrison as a “dangerous” man in order to lessen community anger over his killing. Yet Morrison had never been in custody previously and those who know him describe him as a much loved fisherman and community man who liked to paint and weave and who loved playing the guitar. He was just 29 years-old when killed and the father of a young daughter.
These are the recent cases that are most well-known of Aboriginal people being murdered by Australian authorities or otherwise killed due to the criminal neglect of cops or prison guards. How many other similar deaths have occurred recently that are less known? How many other killings have been so well covered up that the perpetrators have gotten away with ensuring that the incidents escape the public eye? Unfortunately, we can expect that there are likely several such cases.
Increasing state violence against Aboriginal people is fuelled by government policies that attack Aboriginal people and those receiving low incomes. Such policies include the continuation of the racist Northern Territory Intervention, the extension of compulsory “income management” to other areas of the country and the introduction of ever more draconian measures restricting the rights of those receiving unemployment benefits. These policies help generate within society disgusting stereotypes that Aboriginal people and the poor are somehow inferior citizens in need of special measures to keep them in line. Such racist sentiments and hostility to the poor are then naturally reflected in the behaviour of cops and prison guards. However, the outlook of police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges does not simply reflect the average of ideas and attitudes prevalent within society. Rather, these repressive personnel of the state take on in an especially concentrated form the most racist and anti-working class attitudes. This flows naturally from the role of these authorities. They are the henchmen of the ruling class who enforce the dispossession of the dispossessed, they are the direct implementers of racist and anti-poor government policies and they are the state officials who punish those who lash out when ground down by these policies.
Racist behaviour of state officials against Aboriginal people is further inflamed by ruling class attacks on other people of colour. Draconian anti-terror laws targeting Muslims, brutal repression against asylum seekers and racist politicians’ speeches and media slanders against Muslims, Chinese, refugees and guest workers fuel the flames of white supremacist ideology amongst police, prison guards, prosecutors and judges. Such raging white supremacist sentiments – whether conscious and open or hidden within paternalistic standpoints – inevitably end up scorching Aboriginal people too regardless of which ethnic community was directly targeted when these attitudes were first incited. Similarly, racist state attacks on Aboriginal people end up also rebounding against the most oppressed of other non-white coloured communities. The abuse and even torture of Aboriginal prisoners by cops and prison guards is mirrored in the bashing and abuse of refugees and migrants by detention centre guards in Manus Island, Nauru, Christmas Island and the likes of southwestern Sydney’s Villawood detention centre.
All this racist violence being unleashed by cops, prison guards and detention centre guards against Aboriginal people and refugees is encouraging bigoted rednecks and organised fascists to commit their own racist terror attacks. In late August, a 55 year-old white man murdered a 14-year-old Aboriginal youth, Elijah Doughty, by deliberately driving his ute into the boy. This chilling murder in Boulder, just south of the Western Australia town of Kalgoorlie, was preceded by extreme racists making violent threats on social media against Aboriginal youth in the area. Then in late October, an extreme right-wing terrorist of white Anglo-Saxon appearance, Anthony O’Donohue, murdered Indian-origin bus driver, Manmeet Alisher, by barbarically setting him alight with a fire bomb while Manmeet was busy at work driving a bus in suburban Brisbane.
Do Not Trust Any Inquiries or Commissions Under the Patronage of the Racist, Rich People’s Australian State
The intensifying oppression of Aboriginal people has driven a new layer of Aboriginal people into political activism. Some of these determined new activists are relatives or close friends of people who have been killed or tortured in custody at the hands of the state authorities. Many of these young black activists are knowledgeable about international issues and see the need for solidarity with other oppressed groups in society – like refugees. They are also militant in their political perspective. At the 11 October 2016 Sydney march against the war on Aboriginal children, which was led by young black activists, protesters showed a healthy distrust of the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s Youth Detention System. Demonstrators chanted, “Justice for Children – Not Royal Commission!” Meanwhile, those addressing the rally, including Dylan Voller’s mother, Joanne Voller, spoke dubiously of the Royal Commission and stressed that commissions, inquiries and reports in the past had failed to produce anything good. Very true!
Most notably, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which released its final report in 1991 was a complete whitewash. That Royal Commission investigated 99 Aboriginal deaths and out of it there was not a single charge – or even disciplinary action – recommended against a police officer or prison guard. This was despite the fact that in many of the deaths – including those of Eddie Murray, John Pat, Lloyd Boney and David Gundy to name but a few – it was obvious to all who studied the cases without prejudice that those who died had been simply murdered by police or prison guards. However, that Royal Commission outrageously concluded that, “… Commissioners did not find that the deaths were the product of deliberate violence or brutality by police or prison officers.” Instead, the Royal Commission disgustingly blamed “the very high level of alcohol use by most of those who died in custody,” even while its own findings showed that less than 10% of the cases investigated were caused by substance or drug misuse. This Royal Commission did admit that 23 of the deaths came from “external trauma” (including four by gunshot) – of which only six it claimed were self-inflicted or by accident, two inflicted by other prisoners and two by civilians outside of custody. Even if one believes the deceitful Royal Commission’s analysis, this leaves another 13 deaths by “external trauma” that could only have been caused by cops or prison guards. The Royal Commission tried to minimise this truth by reporting seven of those deaths as being of “unknown” cause and one – the murdering bashing to death of John Pat in Roeburne, WA by redneck cops – as the result of a “fight” with police officers in a street outside a hotel. It did, however, concede that five of the deaths were the result of actions by cops or prison guards. Clearly these deaths have got nothing to do with alcohol use by the victims! In these cases, even the biased Royal Commission is admitting that it was the actions of cops or prison guards that caused the deaths. And still that Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody insisted on recommending no charges against the cops and prison guards responsible!
As much as it whitewashed these killings from “external trauma,” the 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody also whitewashed the deaths by hanging. It incredibly claimed that of the 30 Aboriginal deaths in custody by hanging that it investigated, all were suicides (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/67.html). To see what an outrageous lie this is, consider this: the Royal Commission itself found that 22 of the hangings occurred in police rather than prison custody and that “the substantial majority of the hangings occurred within two hours of entering into custody, or even less” (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/national/vol1/61.html)
So, they want people to believe that 22 Aboriginal people had the desire, means and lack of supervision to kill themselves in separate incidents in police cells less than two hours after being detained!
The 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody did make 339 recommendations, some of which if implemented would reduce deaths in custody by lowering the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment. However, the better recommendations were in good part not implemented. Furthermore, the main effect of the Royal Commission were not its recommendations but the fact that it whitewashed the murders of Aboriginal people in custody by cops and prison guards. This has given a green light to state forces to commit yet more racist terror against Aboriginal people. In the 25 year period since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 340 indigenous people have died in state custody (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/apr/15/aboriginal-deaths-in-custody-25-years-on-the-vicious-cycle-remains). That means that the rate of deaths of Aboriginal people in custody has been on average 30% higher since the Royal Commission than in the nine and a half year period that the Royal Commission investigated.
In the lead up to the 1989-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal activists opposed to state brutality sincerely hoped that the inquiry would lead to the prosecution of murdering cops and prison guards and a reduction in deaths in custody. That, today, many families of victims of state terror and many young activists against racist violence show little confidence in the Royal Commission into Northern Territory’s Youth Detention System indicates that the movement has learnt – at least partially – from past disappointments. Crucially, the fewer illusions that opponents of racist terror have that justice will come through the Royal Commission, the more willing they will be to mobilise in action against racist murder and torture in custody. That fewer such illusions exist than did 25 years ago is a promising sign for the movement. However, for this promise to be fully realised and a movement built that relies entirely on the power of the masses and is strong enough to force the racist rulers into concessions, activists must be won to the understanding that no trust should be given not only to this particular Royal Commission but to any Royal Commission – even one with better sounding terms of reference and with more credible commissioners – and that no confidence can, indeed, be placed in any inquiry conducted under the auspices – and/or with the financing – of the current Australian state machine. No trust should be given to any inquiry conducted by the Australian state – no matter how “independent” in form it claims to be – because it will simply be one organ of the state investigating other organs of the same state, that is the police and prisons. The judiciary, police, prisons and commissions are all organs of the same brutal beast and, surely, one cannot expect a beast to use its arms to injure its own heart.
In Australia, the beast that the legal and physical repressive organs belong to is the capitalist state – a body that was conceived, fed and trained to be the enforcer of the interests of the ultra-rich, capitalist class. This body inevitably acts against the interests of Aboriginal people because the economic interests of the greedy big business owning class lies in perpetuating the intense subjugation of Aboriginal people. This is the case for three related reasons. Firstly, for Australia’s mining, pastoral and other big landowning capitalists (and, as we see with mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s recent purchase of Australia’s biggest cattle station, these are often one and the same people) to continue to reap fabulous profits, the Australian state must brutally oppress Aboriginal people to the point that Australia’s first peoples will be so impoverished, so shackled by the claws of the “justice” system and so demoralised that they will be unable to challenge their dispossession from the land that they once occupied or even win a decent share of the wealth derived from it. Secondly, and just as importantly, crushing Aboriginal people helps the white capitalist rulers to deceive the non-Aboriginal masses into feeling that they are part of the “chosen people” and the “in-crowd” because at least they live in a better condition than Aboriginal people. This enables the capitalist rulers to obscure white working class people from the truth that they too are exploited by the greedy capitalists and thus obstructs the non-Aboriginal masses from joining with their Aboriginal sisters and brothers in a united struggle against their common capitalist oppressors. Thirdly, by vilifying Aboriginal people and disgustingly portraying Australia’s subjugated first peoples as “freeloaders” with a high propensity to commit crimes, the exploiting class seeks to divert the anger of the white masses at all the social evils created by the ruling class’ own decrepit system – like under-resourced public health care, public education and social services – away from the ruling class itself, who are the people actually responsible for this situation, and onto Aboriginal people as well as other convenient though utterly undeserving scapegoats such as refugees and migrant workers. This is why the capitalist ruling class and all the organs of its state will never be allies in the Aboriginal people’s struggle for justice. Indeed – they are this struggle’s very enemy!
It is true that the capitalist rulers could, theoretically, completely oppress Aboriginal people without their state forces murdering and torturing Aboriginal people to the extreme extent that they currently do. However, in order for their hired enforcers to physically keep down the working class masses and subjugate Aboriginal people to the degree that the capitalist bigwigs need them to do, the ruling class must ideologically school these cops and prison guards in such contempt for the poor and such a white supremacist outlook that they inevitably commit acts of racist terror of even greater severity than some of their capitalist masters may require. However, this does not mean that the capitalist rulers have any desire to reign in their hired thugs. Far from it! These ultra-rich capitalists are only interested in maximising profits. That means, for starters, they simply cannot be bothered to put any effort into restricting even the most extreme of the cruelty of their state forces. More importantly, the capitalist exploiters do not want to risk losing the absolute loyalty of the henchmen who enforce their rule by reigning in even some of their worst excesses. Furthermore, some key sections of the Australian capitalist class actually share the desire for Aboriginal genocide of the most rabid rednecks of the cops and prison guards. Dead mining magnate Lang Hancock – from whom his daughter Gina Rinehart inherited her massive wealth – infamously proposed that: “no-good half-castes” should collect their welfare checks from a centralized location, adding that “when they had gravitated there, I would dope the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out in the future” (http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/couldnt-be-fairer/clip2/). Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart, who is one of Australia’s richest and most influential capitalists – with strong links in particular to the Cory Bernardi/Tony Abbott/Eric Abetz extreme right-wing of the Liberal party and to the National’s leader and deputy PM Barnaby Joyce – no doubt shares these same genocidal views. Rinehart is a rabid supporter of extreme racist U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and in her recent book rails against any regulations that restrict corporations from disturbing Aboriginal heritage sites. We need to put the Rineharts, the Andrew Forrests, the Packers, Murdochs and all of their ilk out of business for good by sweeping away capitalist rule in a socialist revolution. That is what it will ultimately take to emancipate Aboriginal people from the worsening horrors that they are facing today, to liberate the working class from job insecurity, bullying bosses and deteriorating social services, to free women from the daily subjugation that the capitalist system engenders and to liberate all other downtrodden groups. A new, working class state power based on elected councils of workers, Aboriginal people and representatives of all the other currently oppressed sections of society would literally turn Australian society upside down. It would lay the basis for a future classless, truly egalitarian, communist society.
Mobilise Working Class Power Behind the Struggle Against Racist State Terror
Just as it is in the interests of the capitalist exploiting class to perpetuate the subjugation of Aboriginal people it is in the interests of the working class of all colours to support Aboriginal people’s struggle for justice. The same capitalist ruling class that brutally oppresses Aboriginal people is the one that steals the fruits of workers’ labour. It is true that most white workers are relatively privileged in comparison to most Aboriginal people and they do not face the intense racist oppression that black people in Australia are subjected to. However, overall, white workers are still part of the downtrodden mass of society as they form part of the class whose labour is exploited by the ruling class. The same Australian police, courts and prisons who, in a most extreme way, discriminate against, torture and kill Aboriginal people are also the ones that violently attack workers’ picket lines and persecute militant trade unionists. This is all too evident in the recent spate of prosecutions of CFMEU construction worker union activists. That is why the organised workers movement must stand with Aboriginal people in a united struggle against state violence targeting Aboriginal people, the working class, refugees and all the downtrodden. Furthermore, only by standing with Aboriginal people, refugees and embattled coloured “ethnic” communities can the working class defeat the capitalist ruling class’ efforts to divide the exploited masses with racism and thus allow the working class to build the unity it needs to fight for its rights and those of all the oppressed.
There have been some encouraging signs that sections of the workers movement are – to some extent – joining the fight to defend Aboriginal people against racist brutality. At today’s Sydney rally demanding justice for the murder in custody victim, David Dungay, there was a contingent of Maritime Workers Union of Australia (MUA) members. Trade union mobilisation in support of Aboriginal people’s struggle is not only helpful but is vitally necessary. Since it is in the interests of the ruling exploiting class to reinforce the racist oppression of Aboriginal people, no amount of appeals to their sense of justice and no amount of clever legal manoeuvres are going to make this ruthless class ameliorate the suffering that they are causing Aboriginal people. The only thing that can make this ruling class back down is an opposing power: power that can harm their interests or at least threaten to harm their interests. The organised workers movement has the power to do such harm. Since it is workers’ labour that is the source of the tremendous wealth of the capitalist ruling class, when our trade unions threaten to withdraw their labour through industrial action, the capitalist bosses become scared and panicky. Thus, trade union action against racist state violence, or even the threat of it, can force the capitalist bigwigs – fearful of a huge blow to their profits – to reign in their henchmen in the government, police and prisons.
An example of the kind of the power that the workers movement can bring to the struggle for Aboriginal rights was seen in the campaign in defence of Palm Island Aboriginal hero Lex Wotton. Wotton was the leader of the hundreds strong, November 2004 uprising by the Palm Island community in response to the horrific police murder of Aboriginal man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, and the subsequent state whitewash of this murder. After being arrested following the heroic November 2004 resistance struggle, Wotton was charged and faced the prospect of more than a dozen years in prison. However, as part of a series of demonstrations in support of Lex Wotton on the day he was being sentenced by a Townsville Court on 7 November 2008, Sydney MUA port workers ostentatiously took industrial action in defence of Lex. They stopped work for a brief period during the middle of the sentencing hearing after announcing their intention to do so at the start of the day. Although this action was not powerful enough to stop Lex being jailed, the burgeoning movement and the MUA stopwork compelled the authorities to give Lex Wotton a notably lighter sentence than the ten years plus sentence that they had been planning. As a postscript, it should be noted that since Lex Wotton has completed his sentence he has continued to speak out strongly for Aboriginal rights and – despite attempts to entice him to “semi-apologise” for his actions – he has, completely correctly, insisted that his actions were 100% justified. With Lex Wotton standing strong, earlier this month he partially won a lawsuit against the Queensland government and police over their racist response to both the murder of Mulrunji and the Aboriginal resistance struggle that followed it. Wotton and family members were awarded $220,000 in damages in the class action that they launched on behalf of the Palm Island community. Such an outcome would have been impossible through mere testimony and court litigation alone. Rather, the partial victory was a testament to the ongoing political impact of, in the first place, the heroic Palm Island resistance struggle led by Lex and, secondly, of the subsequent Aboriginal/trade union/leftist campaign in defence of him. The authorities feared that making their usual racist and unfair verdict on this class action case could have re-ignited militant opposition to their racist actions, further built support for a man who proudly continues to stand 100% behind the militant struggle that he led and potentially pushed the trade union movement into renewing its participation in this fight for justice.
The trade union industrial action that was taken in defence of Lex Wotton must become the norm rather than the exception. But how to make it so? It is helpful to look back briefly on the campaign in defence of Lex to see how the movement built up towards this action. The active struggle to defend Lex Wotton and the other arrested Palm Islanders from the November 2004 uprising began with a demonstration in Sydney in Redfern’s The Block on 8 July 2005. That rally demanded the dropping of all charges against the Palm Island defendants and the freeing of all those jailed following the February 2004 Redfern resistance struggle that responded to the horrific police murder of 17 year-old Aboriginal youth, TJ Hickey. This July 2005 demonstration, which Lex Wotton was present at, was initiated by staunch, Sydney-based Aboriginal activist Jenny Munro, Townsville-based Aboriginal activist Gracelyn Smallwood and Trotskyist Platform and drew in Aboriginal people – including some of the heroes who participated in the February 2004 Redfern resistance struggle – trade unionists and leftists. Following on from this rally, those involved in organising it built more similar actions and the movement also spread to Melbourne where the ISJA – Melbourne Supporters Group actively built the solidarity campaign. A crucial effect of these rallies is that they energised the individual trade unionists who participated in them and popularised the struggle in defence of Lex Wotton amongst the most class conscious workers who heard about these demonstrations – including activists within the Sydney Branch of the MUA and others with links to the MUA. Shortly after a 150 strong rally in solidarity with Lex Wotton on 22 September 2007 in Redfern, the Sydney branch of the MUA contacted organisers of the rally announcing that they were throwing their weight behind the campaign. The MUA gave their endorsement to the demand for the dropping of all charges against Lex Wotton as well as material support to the campaign. This included producing, “Proud to be Union – Proud to Support Lex Wotton” badges designed by activists involved with the campaign from the start. Later, the MUA organised a charter bus to take supporters from Sydney to Brisbane to join solidarity actions during Lex’s trial in Brisbane in October 2008. From there, the Sydney Branch of the MUA’s support leapt to carrying out the crucial industrial action on 7 November 2008.
Key to the Defend Lex Wotton movement ultimately winning the trade union support that was so vital to it was the fact that the Sydney-based campaign never, in its action call outs, made any appeals to any state institution whatsoever to be a vehicle for justice. Instead, the action call outs simply demanded that the enemy drop all charges against Lex Wotton. This was important as it informed opponents of racist state brutality that they must look entirely to the power of the masses to advance the struggle. Furthermore, the movement openly appealed to the class interest that the working class has in defending Lex Wotton and in opposing state oppression of Aboriginal people. Thus, the calls for the rally in the lead up to Lex’s trial emphasised that:
The subjugation of Aboriginal people is an extreme form of the repression that the authorities are also unleashing against trade unionists who stand up for workers’ rights. The ABCC construction industry police are spying on and intimidating CFMEU construction union members and continue to initiate jail-carrying charges against individual union activists.
Of course, by appealing in this way to the class interests of the working class it could have put off the tiny number of small-l liberals who, through some contradiction, were willing to oppose the persecution of Lex Wotton while still being thoroughly loyal to the capitalist establishment that is subjugating Aboriginal people. Yet it is not a handful of small-l liberals but the working class that can be the reliable force that can fight against and ultimately defeat racist state brutality because unlike members of the capitalist class – including their small-l liberal variety – the fight against racist state terror actually coincides with workers’ class interests. Thus, campaign organisers made a choice to appeal to workers’ class interests rather than making the action call outs acceptable to pro-capitalist liberals. And a choice really had to be made! It is not possible to appeal simultaneously to both the working class and small-l liberal members of the capitalist class as their class interests are mutually conflicting. By making this choice to appeal to the working class, the Sydney-based movement in defence of Lex Wotton was able to allow more politically conscious trade union activists to mobilise their fellow union members behind the campaign by explaining how the fight against racist state brutality is, indeed, union work.
Today, the struggle against racist state brutality must again openly appeal to the class interests of the working class in order to lay the basis for badly needed joint trade union/Aboriginal/coloured migrant people’s action against racist oppression. In a promising development, for the recent December 10 “International Human Rights Day” march in Sydney which focussed on opposition to the torture and killing of Aboriginal people in custody, the action call out stated opposition to not only the persecution of other marginalised peoples – including Muslims and refugees – but also insisted that the same Australian government committing brutal abuses against Aboriginal people is “trying to criminalise trade union activism in the building industry and beyond.” In this way the struggle to defend Aboriginal people against racist state oppression was united in common action with the demands of the working class and other oppressed groups. The large demonstration was addressed by Aboriginal activists, a representative of the MUA and speakers representing refugees and other downtrodden peoples.
How to Turn Our Unions into Uncompromising Supporters of the
Struggle Against Racist Brutality
The ability to mobilise trade union power in defence of Aboriginal people depends not just on the strategy of the anti-racist movement but also on the political struggles within the workers movement itself. Some of the best, most politically conscious trade unionists do understand the need to stand by Aboriginal people’s fight for justice. However, trade union solidarity action is currently held back by the union movement’s ties to the ALP and by its present, losing, strategy of trying to make capitalist rule less oppressive to the masses through electing “progressive” ALP governments to administer the capitalist state. Thus, even when the most politically aware unionists want to take a stand against racist state brutality they are held back by a fear that going too far would put them smack bang against ALP policy or otherwise harm the prospects of the ALP winning/retaining office. As part of this outlook that accepts, rather than opposes, capitalist state power, the union movement chooses to incorporate within its ranks the hired henchmen of the capitalist ruling class: cops and prison guards. In NSW, for example, the so-called “union” representing cops, the Police Association of NSW, is allowed to be part of both the Unions NSW federation of trade unions and the peak national union organisation, the ACTU. Prison guards, meanwhile, are part of the Public Service Association of NSW, a union that while including prison guards mostly consists of legitimate workers like support staff in schools and TAFE and road and traffic workers. The presence of cops and prison guards – the brutal enforcers of capitalist interests – in our unions both corrupts our unions and undermines any struggle to mobilise them against state terror. Imagine trying to promote a cross-union action against racist state violence when representatives of the cops and prison guards – the very people the action is aimed against – are in the very meeting where the prospective action is being considered! Of course, having representatives of the cops, who would try to herd scabs through union picket lines, or the prison guards, who would keep militant trade unionists imprisoned, at a union meeting harms union organising for workers’ economic struggles too.
There is also the most obvious problem that we face in trying to mobilise trade union action against racist brutality. That is the reality that even though it is in the working class’ very interests to stand by oppressed Aboriginal people, many workers – though certainly not all – themselves imbibe backward racist ideas to varying degrees. Workers, like other classes, are influenced by the racist mainstream media, by the divisive speeches of ruling class politicians and by the racist nature of the capitalist Australian society that they inhabit. Furthermore, current union leaders end up reinforcing White Australian chauvinist consciousness within the workers movement through pushing divisive calls to favour local workers over overseas workers in hiring and to deter imports of overseas produced goods. Such protectionist “Aussie workers first” slogans are promoted by even the most left-wing union leaders – including those who have done most to mobilise their members in support of Aboriginal rights struggles. Although the immediate targets of such protectionist demands are overseas and guest workers rather than Aboriginal people, these demands necessarily breed White Australia nationalist consciousness – sentiments that inevitably lead to hostility, or at best indifference, toward Aboriginal people’s plight. There urgently needs to be a political struggle within our unions to replace this protectionist perspective with a strategy that unites local and overseas workers in a common fight for their rights. We also need to remove from our unions all cops, prison guards and prosecutors. This would occur as part of a struggle to turn our unions away from the ALP and its bankrupt program for a more humane-run capitalism and onto a path that is guided by the understanding that only the power of the united working class and all of the oppressed can be relied on to win gains for the toilers and downtrodden. All this is needed not only to build trade union action against racist terror but to unleash union power to defend workers’ immediate economic interests as well. For example, to powerfully wage strikes to fight for jobs for all workers we need a working class united by internationalist ideology, not one divided by protectionism. That is why the struggle to build the leadership and political perspective that can turn our unions into the force needed to effectively fight for their own members’ interests is one and the same fight as the struggle to win our unions to the perspective of mass action against racist brutality. It is the struggle to infuse our unions with a revolutionary, internationalist program: a program of militant class struggle guided by the understanding that the capitalist state, no matter who is administering it, is the enemy of workers and all the oppressed. A union leadership fighting on such a class struggle program would be linked to a revolutionary socialist party that unites the working class with all the other oppressed sections of society.
We need to work extremely hard to turn our unions into revolutionary-minded organisations that will support the cause of Aboriginal people and all the downtrodden. Racist oppression of Aboriginal people is getting more and more terrifying every day. Families of murder in custody victims and the talented and tenacious young Aboriginal activists coming to the fore need the power of the union movement behind their struggles. When our unions join this battle, they will find that Aboriginal peoples’ determination and healthy distrust of the racist, rich peoples’ state will, in turn, rub off onto union activists. This can only advance the badly needed transformation of our unions into instruments of militant class struggle. A transformation that is vital not only for unleashing union power in defence of Aboriginal people and refugees but is essential for making our unions capable of turning back the tide of attacks that the entire working class is facing today.