Monday, June 21, 2021

How the Torres Strait's culture, geography and colonial experience is shaping crime and justice

At last some gradual official recognition is being given to the realities of the Torres Strait people. Officialdom is at last beginning to recognize what people in the Far North have always known: That Aborigines and islanders are two very different races with very different characteristics. The do-gooders insist that they are all "indigeous" and therefore all the same but that is the ignorance of people who cannot see past brown skin.

The Torres Strait people are Melanesians -- from nearby New Guinea. They are not from Australia at all and tend to have a low opinion of Aborigines. They are seagoing and maintin gardens to feed themselves, something virtually unknown among Aborigines.

In Far North Queensland where I grew up, there were always both Aborigines and Islanders around. We knew both well.

Aborigines mostly lived in welfare housing on the dole while the islanders were often buying their own homes, for instance. And the difference in temperament was stark. Islanders were big cheerful healthy men always ready for a song who would look you in the eye and shake your hand -- very desirable citizens. I will forbear comment on how we saw Aborigines.

In the Torres Strait, it can sometimes take hours, even days, for police to arrive after a crime's been reported. And often, by the time officers step foot on the island, the situation has been resolved.

Research shows islands in the Torres Strait, which stretch for 150-kilometres from the northern-most tip of Queensland to the coast of Papua New Guinea, have lower property crime rates than many non-Indigenous communities.

A recent Australian Institute of Criminology report debunks the generalisation that all Indigenous communities are riddled with crime.

John Scott, one of the report's authors, says the Torres Strait region's crime figures are similar to those of "a relatively well-off white agricultural community on the mainland".

"And it's beset by the same sorts of crime problems as we'd expect to find in that type of setting," Professor Scott tells ABC RN's Law Report.

According to the report, between 2001 and 2018, crimes against a person such as assault were lower in the Torres Strait region than in Queensland Aboriginal communities, but higher than for the whole of the state, while property offences were slightly lower than the Queensland average.

Professor Scott says while the region is economically disadvantaged, like many country communities, it has high levels of "social capital" that may be keeping crime down. This includes cultural mediation, community involvement and support as well as long-practiced traditions.

"We argue that in explaining these rates of crime, you've really got to understand the high levels of social capital that exists in the Torres Strait," Professor Scott says.

"Social capital is something that's not really identified with Indigenous communities in this country, which ... is a real error." 'We're not all the same'

Queensland Magistrate James Morton, who is a Torres Strait Islander, says it's important that Indigenous communities across Australia are not grouped together.

"The notion that every Indigenous person is the same, I find that is a long-dated colonial view of things," Magistrate Morton says.

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Factors like location, community and culture all have an influence on crime rates, he explains.

Magistrate Morton, who co-authored the Australian Institute of Criminology report, says family and long-standing traditions continue to be a large part of island life providing structure and a community harmony.

But belonging to a smaller communities can be a "double-edged sword", he says.

Shame, embarrassment and family dynamics appear to keep overall crime rates low, while people are less likely to report domestic violence.

What justice looks like in the Torres Strait

C'Zarke Maza, the Torres Strait regional manager of the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal service, says communities often deal with their "own issues" before matters are retro-fitted into the mainstream legal system.

Each island has its own community justice group made up of elders who apply protocols and customs when dealing with a crime.

They never deal with allegations of domestic violence.

The justice groups were set up in Queensland as a response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

They provide cultural information reports at sentencing and during bail hearings, as well as contribute to unique forms of local justice like cultural mediation.

Mr Maza, a descendant of the Meriam people of Murray Island and Yidinji people near Cairns, says each group operates differently.

He says while cultural mediation exists in other areas of Australia, the practice has been adapted for the Torres Strait way of life.

"It's where the elders get together with the offender, with the victim, and pretty much they mediate using traditional island practices that have existed from time immemorial," Mr Maza, who is based on Thursday Island, says.

Charges for low-level offending, like wilful damage or low-grade assault, are struck out of court and dismissed after successful mediation.

Mr Maza says the process has seen a reduction in repeat offenders.

"It is certainly quite confrontational for them being face-to-face with a victim," he says.

"Normally they [the complainant] are put on the sidelines and the police end up taking over but this way they have a say and their voice is heard through the process.

"This empowers the justice group elders because really it's recognising the position and the power that they play in the communities."

Professor Scott, the head of Queensland University of Technology's School of Justice, believes the region's colonial experience, geography and history of community policing continues to shape it.

He says colonisation was "less impactful" in the Strait compared to other parts of Australia where people were displaced by the pastoral industry.

"A lot of people still speak English as a second language. The culture is still relatively intact," he says.

Other contributing factors, he says, are the remoteness of some islands and literally having nowhere to run if you commit a crime.


Should the Crime and Corruption Commission be abolished?

Fire MacSporran

Has Queensland’s crime watchdog become a mangy mongrel that needs a bullet behind the ear?

More politely, should the Crime and Corruption Commission be shut down, or have its powers curtailed for its own protection and ours?

Before I tell you what I think, we must consider the CCC’s botched Logan council prosecution that destroyed careers and hurt families.

It is perhaps the biggest failure of the CCC since it came into being as the Criminal Justice Commission in 1989 as the post-Fitzgerald gatekeeper.

The Logan investigation was described as a “travesty of justice” by Sunshine Coast mayor Mark Jamieson, the president of the Local Government Association of Queensland.

“Lives, reputations and careers have been ruined and a duly-elected council wrongly dismissed,” he said.

Member for Ryan Julian Simmons told federal parliament the Palaszczuk government must also shoulder some of the blame.

In calling for CCC chairman Alan MacSporran to stand aside, Simmons said the Queensland Government was warned the charges against the seven councillors would not hold up.

He said: “At the time the fraud charges were laid by the CCC the independent legal advice from multiple senior counsel ALL advised the criminal charges had no chance of success.

“This was all presented to the Queensland Government at the time but despite all that the democratically elected council was dismissed.’’

Now Robert Setter, the Queensland Public Service Commissioner, has highlighted what may be the CCC’s greatest failure in the fight against corruption inside government.

In a worrying submission to a parliamentary committee he said the CCC he often referred corruption complaints back to government departments that were entirely ill-equipped to deal with them.

“Concerns have been raised about the referral of corrupt conduct matters by the CCC back to agencies with no, or very limited, capability to handle them, or where the allegations involve the chief executive or member of a board,’’ Setter said.

Clerk of the parliament Neil Laurie echoed similar sentiments. He warned public confidence in the CCC was undermined when it referred complaints against police back to police to investigate.

I also suspect CCC routinely fails to fully investigate complaints directed at the Queensland Cabinet and the union-controlled public service.

There is perceived political bias (to me, anyway) in favour of the ALP. This was evident when Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was found to be in contempt of parliament over her threats to strip Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) MPs of staff.

The CCC said there was “prima facie” evidence Palaszczuk breached the Criminal Code. But it let her off, referring the case back to the parliamentary committee where Labor has a majority and the Premier would never be sanctioned.

Palaszczuk’s former deputy Jackie Trad and her Transport Minister Mark “Mangocube” Bailey likewise escape sanctions after becoming embroiled in allegations of wrongdoing.

All power is held on trust. The Logan debacle has shaken our trust in the CCC.

With phone tapping powers and a star chamber where any citizen is compelled to give evidence, the CCC may give the appearance of a secretive super force that can act with impunity.

The union, described in parliament and the courts as a criminal organisation, said the CCC was rotten to the core.

The CCC had become “a blunt instrument used by employers to intimidate workers and public officials”, said union secretary Michael Ravbar. His union would know all about intimidation.

The rise of bikie gangs, union thuggery and government corruption is precisely why the CCC should be retained with its coercive powers.

The watchdog remains an imperfect model. That does not mean it should be stripped of its power to uncover wrongdoing.

Without crime watchdogs like the CCC, the Gordon Nuttalls and Eddie Obeids will come slithering back.

Our crime watchdog does not require a bullet behind the ear.

It needs our help.


Cheap whisky with a Hobnob on the side: What does the Australia-UK free trade deal mean for you?

Treating yourself to a McVitie’s Hobnob dipped into a cup of tea could soon be even sweeter as the price of British biscuits is set to fall.

Or if you’re after something stronger, the cost of a glass of Scotch whisky is also on the rocks.

These are just some of the benefits of a deal struck in London this week, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his British counterpart Boris Johnson swapped English Penguins for Australian Tim Tams, Marmite for Vegemite and Blue Label Johnnie Walker for Penfolds wine.

The UK government expects the agreement will save British households up to £34 million ($62 million) collectively each year, or about $2.23 each, due to lower costs for Australian goods including confectionery, swimwear and wine.

So how much will Australians save at the till?

The full details of the in-principle deal are yet to be provided, but based on what information has been publicly released, there are several cuts to tariffs on UK goods exported to Australia. Lower costs for manufacturers and exporters typically results in lower prices for consumers.

Ceramics, whisky, biscuits, pharmaceuticals, cars, machinery and tractors are among the products expected to be cheaper in Australia due to the removal of tariffs. There have also been suggestions British cheese and some clothing brands, such as Burberry, could cost Australians less due to the deal. The UK government estimates $7.9 billion worth of exports into Australia will have tariffs removed.

But determining exactly how much cheaper these items might become is tricky. For instance, there is currently a 5 per cent tariff on distilled spirits including whisky and gin.

If the full 5 per cent was realised as a discount, this would be a $5 reduction on a $100 bottle.

A submission from the Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association to an Australian Productivity Commission review into tariffs in 2000 argued the 5 per cent charge on imports to Australia applied to distilled spirits added a “mere 0.84 per cent” to the retail price of a litre bottle of Scotch Whisky.

But don’t hold your breath for a cut in cost for your favourite tipple to appear any time soon.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Australia national ambassador, Matt Bailey, said the organisation was “excited” about the deal that appeared to be a step in the right direction, though they need to see the details.

“While we don’t expect to see immediate changes in pricing across the board, we do see at least some better flexibility in the importation of great Scotch and other international whisky as a result,” Mr Bailey said.

The 5 per cent tariff also applies to biscuits. A reduction of this size could cut the cost of a 300-gram packet of oat-filled Hobnobs by 15 cents to $2.85. At the moment the same size packet of local Anzac biscuits costs $3.

The UK Department for International Trade says cheese exports currently face tariffs worth up to 20 per cent, while British clothes sold in Australia are slugged with a 5 per cent duty.

Big-ticket items could have more meaningful price reductions. A Parliamentary Committee report on trade with the UK previously found vehicle imports from the UK to Australia were worth $1.5 billion in 2015-16. This included more than 40 makes and models, including Jaguar-LandRover, Mini, Honda, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and Nissan.

The latest MINI Cooper S Countryman with all the mod cons will set a new car owner back about $68,000. If the tariff directly translates into a 5 per cent price cut, this could be a $3400 saving.

For Australian businesses, the agreement will not affect the nation’s single largest export to Britain.

Of the $15.9 billion of merchandise exports to Britain from Australia in 2019-20, more than $12 billion was in gold.

Most gold exports are not made physically, as valuable slivers of the precious metal are easily lost in transit. Ownership is transferred among investors who hold most of their gold in vaults beneath the Bank of England in central London.

British purchases of gold soared to record levels in the wake of Brexit over fears the event would weaken the UK economy. It has remained at elevated levels, in part due to uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


A woman who refused more than $800,000 to drop her sexual assault complaint was financially destroyed and faced jail in the legal blowback

Former Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) official Narelle Dawson-Wells was charged with perjury and spent three years in court before prosecutors realised their key witness had lied on oath and hired a controversial former cop to dig dirt on her.

The ABC can reveal details of the flawed prosecution, which some lawyers say is a cautionary tale for women pressing sexual assault charges.

One legal expert said the case highlighted one of the problems with rape and sexual assault trials in Queensland — that it is often the complainant who is actually put on trial.

Ms Dawson-Wells' allegations against 'Mr Smith' — not his real name for legal reasons — put him on trial for sexual assault several years ago.

He responded with a legal fightback that turned the tables on his accuser, who was charged with perjury for denying a "previous sexual relationship" with him.

But police failed to disclose evidence that Mr Smith had lied to them and WorkCover, which ultimately sank the case that came down to his word against hers.

Ms Dawson-Wells, who lost her career and life savings in the legal fight, has campaigned for official scrutiny of her case since charges were dropped four years ago.

The wife of former state attorney-general Dean Wells was a clinical psychologist who worked at the CMC as a deputy director until 2009 before the alleged assault.

"I couldn't get my head around what people who I had so respected had done to me," Ms Dawson-Wells said. "[I was] ruined. I had a high-paying job, I owned a beautiful home. Sold my home — I had to sell up everything and it's been financially horrific.

"And it was so humiliating. My little girl with two small babies re-mortgaged her home to pay legal fees.

"I had nothing left so I had to represent myself in court. And I came to the point where I thought I couldn't cope anymore. It was too hard."

$830k offer to withdraw complaint

Before he was charged, documents seen by the ABC show Mr Smith offered Ms Dawson-Wells $830,000 to withdraw her criminal complaint.

She said she refused "because it wasn't right".

Mr Smith had already hired private investigator Mick Featherstone to find information to discredit the account of his accuser.

Some of this fed into a six-day cross-examination that left her standing as a witness in his trial in tatters.

"[Mr Smith] hired a top barrister. I was mocked. My career was minimised. It's a process where they will rip you apart and humiliate you on the stand," she said.

Mr Featherstone took statements from witnesses, including two former CMC staff who had been stood down after Ms Dawson-Wells blew the whistle on a controversial child sex abuse survey.

Mr Smith's lawyer then lobbied police to charge his accuser. Ms Dawson-Wells was charged in 2014. "I thought I'd be sexually assaulted in jail and there would be no escape," she said.

It took prosecutors three years to realise they had problems.

The arresting officer had finally handed over Mr Smith's statement to his lawyer before his trial, which revealed two "provable" lies.

One was to police about his use of a sex toy.

Prosecutor Michael Cowen wrote in a 2017 memo to Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Byrne: "If he has lied about that, what else has he lied about?"

Mr Smith also admitted lying in a declaration to WorkCover about not being alone with Ms Dawson-Wells on the night of an alleged assault.

"I believed I needed to deny everything to protect myself [and] saw Narelle's WorkCover claim as a trumped up way of trying to get money out of me," he said in a statement to his lawyer.

Mr Byrne said this meant "on any view, the totality of the evidence evidences a willingness on [Mr Smith's] part to tailor evidence as it suits him".

Mr Featherstone was also charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice in another case, which "could further taint witnesses who first gave an account to him, before giving a statement to police", Mr Cowen said.

The charge was dropped this year but Mr Featherstone still faces charges over an unrelated investment scam.

The prosecutor concluded: "[Mr Smith] is so undermined as a witness there is no prospect of conviction."

He said Mr Smith told him it was "very hard to accept the fact that [one] small error of judgment on my behalf could make it so easy for her to avoid conviction".

Ms Dawson-Wells obtained the memos through a 2019 Australian Defence Force (ADF) inquiry into the conduct of prosecutor Mr Cowan, by then the ADF's chief judge advocate.

"I just thought to myself, if he had just taken the time to read the evidence that he had before him [or] had access to, I would never, ever have had to go through what I went through," she said.

The ADF report remains confidential.

'Very unusual for it to go as far as it did'
An internal police investigation of a female detective's handling of the perjury matter found she had potentially broken the law by failing to disclose a required document that revealed his lies.

But senior police decided a prosecution was not in the public interest as there was no evidence the detective had acted corruptly. "Her punishment was a chat with a senior colleague," Ms Dawson-Wells said.

A police spokesman said "the outcome of that investigation [was] overviewed by the Crime and Corruption Commission".

Bond University law professor Jonathan Crowe said he thought it was unusual for prosecutors to go after a man's accuser based on his evidence and "very unusual for it to go as far as it did".

"It's not clear that it's a case that would have a great prospect of success … and it does make you wonder about the circumstances that led to that occurring."

Professor Crowe said the saga highlighted other legal loopholes he hoped would be addressed by a state government taskforce on women's experience of the criminal justice system, including "cross-examination practices that we see from defence barristers [that] I think, cross the line beyond what's necessary to get at the truth".

"For anybody, regardless of your circumstances or background, being aggressively cross-examined over multiple days about small details of your evidence [in an alleged sexual assault] is a very onerous and upsetting process."

Professor Crowe said community awareness of other tactics, such as the use of private investigators, was "one of the contributing factors to the low rates of reporting of sexual assault, as well as low conviction rates".

Mr Smith did not respond to interview requests or questions.

His lawyer declined to comment.




1 comment:

Paul said...

I endorse your commentary on Islanders vs Aborigines.

The baby bonus children are completely out of control at the moment. They are almost never Islanders.