Call for Senate inquiry into Warburton Elder and Palm Island deaths in custody

By Gerry Georgatos

The Human Rights Alliance is calling for a Senate Inquiry to be urgently convened as a Select Committee Inquiry into the deaths in custody of the Warburton Elder (Western Australia) and at Palm Island (Queensland).

April 15 shall mark 20 years since the release of the Final Report and the 339 recommendations from the 1987-1991 Royal Commission into Australian Deaths in Custody.

These two deaths must be demarcated to the Australian Senate as many believe that justice has not been served by the relevant Western Australian and Queensland authorities.

These two deaths in custody should be reopened firstly for the pursuit of justice for the grieving families and communities and secondly for these type of deaths, if findings are upheld by the Australian Senate, never to reoccur in our Australia.

From 1980 to 2008 there have been 2,056 deaths in prison and police custody. During the last two years there have been an additional thereabouts 160 deaths in custody. The annual average of deaths in custody in 1991 was 71, it is now 78, with the last verifiable year, 2008, recording 86 deaths. Suicides totalled 494.

A Select Committee of the Australian Senate must undertake the responsibility to determine whether prima facie cases exist in these deaths. A Select Committee of the Australian Senate must undertake the responsibility to determine if there are cultures of nepotism, favour dispensation, of inherent human weaknesses, of various improprieties and if so then legislate and oblige pursuant remedies.

A Select Committee of the Australian Senate must undertake the responsibility to determine whether racial or other forms of discrimination contributed to these deaths. If the Australian Senate does not undertake such responsibility then the Australian landscape will continue to be tainted by imputations of systemic racism and subsequent practices, and other inter-generational biases and prejudices, which many of us believe to be the case.

WA has three times the national average for Aboriginal deaths in custody. 18% of all deaths in custody are Aboriginal, which is at least 6 times the rate to the percentage of the Australian population Aboriginal peoples represent. However 82% of deaths in custody are non-Aboriginal and these alone represent a terrible record when compared with trends around the world.

The Human Rights Alliance calls for the urgent Senate Select Committee Inquiry into these two tragic deaths which are now forever remembered on our Australian landscape and which have tragically touched so many lives for so long.

"It is not possible that in 2,056 deaths in custody from 1980 to 2008, and the 160 thereabout deaths since 2008, that there could have been no criminality, no criminal negligence, no successful prosecution. This is why we need independent Police and Prison Inspectorates that do not interact with the Police and Prison Services, and thus eliminate imputations, and report directly to State Parliaments."

Gerry Georgatos, PhD (Law) researcher in Australian Deaths in Custody.

Gerry Georgatos, Convener of The Human Rights Alliance

Working towards a Better Future

We acknowledge and respect the traditional custodians whose ancestral lands we are now part of. We acknowledge and remember the horrific atrocities inflicted upon them. This is and will forever be their land.

MEDIA CONTACT: 0430 657 309

Websites with coverage of this area:



gerry georgatos has called on the members of the federal senate to form a select committee to investigate, initially, the deaths of mr. ward in wa and the death of mulrunji doomadgee in qld. both of these deaths still continue to give one a bad taste knowing that real justice has yet to be found for the families, communities, friends and honest people who share our real concern that true justice has yet to happen.

from 1 january 1980 to 31 december 2010 there has been a total of 2,216 deaths in custody of which some 18% have been of aboriginal and torres strait islander descent even though we number less than 3% of the national population. i thank gerry for allowing me to use his figures to put my views. overall there has been an average of all custodial deaths to the end of 2010 of 73.86 per year. atsi deaths average 13.29 per year for a total of 398.88 for the 30 years. atsi deaths have numbered more than 1 per month for thirty years!!! non-atsi deaths have numbered 60.57 per year or an average of just over 5 deaths every month for 30 years.

these are indeed mind-boggling figures but i continue to believe that they most certainly lean on the side of coservatism. i have stated for several years now that the total for atsi dic has exceeded 400 and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up to date with the real numbers of dic as the custodial authorities attempt to hide their dic. the police are notorius in arguing that some of their dic are not true dic so should not be identified as such. high speed police pursuits are generally manipulated to be able to say that they were not 'chasing' the other vehicle and had called the pursuit off literally a couple of minutes prior to the subsequent crash and deaths.

police are well trained in high speed pursuits and learn how to assess that a vehicle is on the edge of losing control and crashing thus allowing them to pull back and merely await the inevitable. isja has argued for years that those police vehicles used for pursuits must have fitted a black-box type device that records not only the car movements but the conversations of the occupants once a speed in excess of, say, 120k is reached. naturally the police have shown absolutely no interest in this monitoring device.

since the founding of the aboriginal deaths in custody watch committee in april/may 1987 there has been ongoing discussions on widening the definition of dic to include those atsi individuals who were/are incarcerated or held against their will in psychiatric instutions, hospitals, etc. and had died should also be counted as a type 2 dic. sadly we were never able to convince australian governments to adopt this scheme.

gerry has nominated just 2 dic and i am sure that he could name very many more as worthy of investigation as the 2 he named. i believe that, with family permission, the death of 16 year old john pat must also be relooked at. among others of course from wa. in qld the death of 'the dancer' must also be included in any future list. for nsw the cases and cover-ups of the deaths at the hands of the police of eddie murray in a wee waa police cell must also be re-opened. the coroner found that it would have been impossible for eddie to hang himself as he was too inebriated to do so. the coroner found that eddie had died 'at the hand or hands of persons unknown.' the murray family has fought for over 20 years without obtaining justice. it is time they did. sadly his mother has left us.

likewise, the tragic death of 17 year old tj hickey arising from a police pursuit some 7 years ago has denied justice to the hickey family. justice was bent next to breaking point by the then-carr government, the police and the coroners court in exonerating the redfern police from any blame whatsoever.

a nt case that continually screams out for justice is the 20+ year battle of the scott family in an heroic attempt to bring to justice the 4 gaol officers involved in the murder of douglas bruce scott in berrimah gaol in 1985. letty did everything and anything in her search for justice to bring peace to bruce, herself and their son, nathan. they sought justice in australia, they sought justice overseas and finally in the supreme court of the nt, justice angel cowardly decided that he could not come up with justice but instead handed down an open verdict stating that he could not make up his legal mind as to whether the 4 gaol officers were guilty or not. a travesty of justice. if he could not make up his mind as to the facts he should have referred the matter to a full bench of the supreme court or even referred it to the high court.

i could of course go on but the above cases show quite clearly that we are never ever allowed to win!!!!!!!

the mabo/wik decisions exampled that quite clearly. howard and fischer came up with the 10 point plan for 'bucketloads of extinguishment' of which senator harridine and frank brennan reduced to 7 agreed points because they did not want a racist election. what rot, for atsi peoples every election is a racist election. even before we were counted in 1967. neither harridine or brennan consulted with the aboriginal people or their then representatives.

it seems we are only allowed assimilation and 'sorry business'.

i strongly urge all who read this to make contact with your senate members of whatever party but especially bob brown and nick xenophon informing them that we want a senate enquiry into all deaths in custody and our custodial systems. our custodial systems must be made to work for us as a suppossedly humane society.

we do not have the death penalty in this country, why should we accept one because our police, gaol and health officers are either too lazy or too venal to accept their statutory duty of care to those under their control.


ray jackson
indigenous social justice association

Ten per cent of a atsi deaths in custody are women, an average of three every two years for thity years. Which women's organisation or organisations which represent the interests of their families? Why has Gerry Georgatos singled out men only for a select committee to investigate?
A Senate Select Committee Inquiry with integrity would select a male and a female as first preference.


Hi Philip, I haven't singled out males and in those figures I have tallied there are female deaths in custody as well. Philip where in my brief summary have I delineated references to male or female, I have tallied figures collectively even though more than 90% of deaths in custody are of males however I care about all deaths in custody, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, male and female, etc...

Philip, I have made no reference to males or females on the Senate Committee or Select Committee and if the call was heeded for such Committees to be enabled I too would be advocating and expecting representation reflective of expertise, cultural appropriateness and gender balance. How could you assume what you have suggested in your questions from what I have written?

Regards, Kindly, Gerry Georgatos.

Hi George, the upside is the gender balance of a call to investigate the dic of two men is exactly the same gender balance as the parliament, comprised by authority of the constitution of two men's legislatures, which will conduct the investigation.

Why an inquiry, we know what is happening and they know what is happening. What about justice something that has evaded us for two centuries. The whole justice system needs a shake up. Women have to be included and recognised in the Constitution for starters. The police are getting away with brutality and murder. We have not got an Aboriginal Womens Land Council. Aboriginal womens business has become oppressed for two hundred years, white women have been oppressed since the Papal Bulls 1455 when the agenda was set by the Roman Catholic Church to eradicate pagans and infadels off the face of the earth and take our land in the name of God and Jesus. Genocide is alive and well in Australia.

We have exhausted domestic remedies, our culture and our Peoples lives are in danger of genocide under the Commonwealth governments of Australia we have no other option but to seek political assylum. We cannot trust the government, the Judges, the police, our government controlled ATSI organisations, the government appointed ATSI Leaders and the Churches. The Pope apologised for Crimes against humanity since the Papal Bulls to the present day. United Nations Reconciliation Charter is to recognise the problem, Apologise, guarantee it will never happen again and to restore the Peoples quality of life. We have only had an apology. The Close the Gap policy is widening the gap and the genocide is continuing. Assimilation is Genocide. The Reconciliation Movement has become Reconciliation Limited it is a business. The Constitution is sexist and the validity of the Constitution in this country is questionable. The government is incorporated with the United States Security and Exchange Commission, they are a foreign power under their own legislation which would make all ATSI orgs foreign powers, they all have a constituion. The Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Incorporations Act is illegal and detrimental to ATSI Societys.

Lee, I agree with the validity of all your points. With the Inquiries I would like to see them as Joint Committees with people from community, from specialist areas so as to ensure throughcare to outcomes, and that being where required as justice, as changes in legislation, in the creation of Inspectorates, etc... In terms of representation I agree with the points of yourself and Philip, I am merely highlighting the need for action on the landscape. In terms of an Aboriginal Women's Council this would be fantastic.