Indigenous voices on Aurukun; and the Law Society tells the public to butt out


[map courtesy of Google Maps.]

A few people have wondered “What are indigenous people saying”? in the fallout of the Aurukun gang-rape case. I’ve tried to gather some voices. If you’ve seen others, please add a pointer to them.

Boni Robertson was the first to hit the news. From the Courier-Mail:

The decision and comments have drawn swift condemnation from prominent Aboriginal academic Professor Boni Robertson, of Brisbane’s Griffith University, who called for Judge Bradley to step down.

“I think Judge Bradley should be asked to step down until a full inquiry is undertaken,” Prof Robertson told reporters today.

There was nothing that would ever justify the outcome of the case, which had set back the cause of indigenous womens’ rights, she said.

“It’s actually undermined everything we have worked for over the last 10 years to get our women justice in this country,” Prof Robertson said. “There is something even more sinister – it’s actually give a very clear message to perpetrators out there generally. I don’t care that they are black, white or whatever, I think it’s allowed perpetrators to think if you can come up with a defence that she asked for it or she condoned it, then that gives them a sense of leniency.”


Griffith University Professor Boni Robertson yesterday said Judge Bradley should be made to stand down pending a full investigation.

“She (Judge Bradley) is being as negligent as you could imagine within a system,” she said. “Somebody who has the judicial power to bring someone to justice, somebody who has the ability to say to perpetrators ‘This is not going to be tolerated’, somebody who has the ability to say to the country ‘This system will never allow this sort of act to be condoned’ has been negligent.”

And from Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, as reported by the ABC:

As an Aboriginal man, I am appalled by the reports of recent events in Aurukun. I am disgusted at the regular reports of serious offences of sexual violence committed against our women and children.

As an Ambassador for White Ribbon Day for several years, I have continually emphasised that sexual violence is not and has never been part of Aboriginal culture. Nor can our traditional law be relied upon to justify such behaviour.

Recent events in Aurukun appear to highlight systemic failures in the justice system in Queensland for Indigenous people across the areas of prosecution of violent and sexual offences and the protection and care for the victims of crime.

We are again forced to examine all the circumstances which allowed this travesty to occur and must continually remind ourselves that this is no isolated case.

The Queensland Government is to be commended for moving quickly to review the treatment of all instances of abuse in the courts in Cape York over the past two years.

Every Aboriginal person – woman, child and man – needs to be reminded that the justice system will apply to them, as perpetrator and will protect them as victims. There can be nothing as debilitating to public order in a community than the indifference of those involved in upholding justice – be they police, prosecutors or judges.

It is a great tragedy that we still hear of incidents such as these given the focus and funding that has been put into Cape York in the past five years.

In November 2001, Justice Tony Fitzgerald reported to the then Premier of Queensland into “the causes, nature and extent of breaches of the law in Cape York communities, as well as the relationship between crime and substance abuse.” The report recommended that there be “acknowledgement that serious violence and abuse needs to be subjected to the full force of the law and a clear message that violence will not be tolerated.” In particular, significant resources were provided to the Cape at both the federal and state levels through the Council of Australian Governments whole-of-government trial which commenced in 2002. We must ensure that the money is impacting in communities in the intended manner.

As we move forward, let this latest incident not remain as just today’s sensational headline – let it be a clarion call for change.

All public officers – be they the judiciary, police, prosecutors, or service deliverers dealing with health, housing, care and protection or education – must be committed to providing equality of treatment for Indigenous peoples. Who said such officials could give up on Indigenous people and condemn them to unsafe conditions without the protection of the law?

Such failure is a breach of our international human rights obligations. The Racial Discrimination Convention, for example, requires equal treatment in the provision of the right to security of the person and protection by their government against violence or bodily harm.

Our current approach is too heavily weighted towards intervention at the end stages of the process – when offences have been committed and communities destroyed. There has been too little time and resources devoted to community education to build a strong anti-violence culture and awareness of the law, as well as capacity building within communities to better enable them to challenge violence from within.

And there is timidity by government officials when dealing with cases of assault and sexual abuse within Indigenous communities. The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, for example, is not an excuse for inaction.

Governments and the Indigenous community face a difficult challenge of first protecting children and victims of crime, and secondly breaking the cycle of offending behaviour.

Children and women deserve the protection of the law. Our first commitment should be to ensure that they can live without fear for their safety.

And no, I couldn’t bring myself to extensively quote Noel Pearson here, with his dozy wibbling about the “silly hesitation” to remove children from their homes and lands, and the “bleating” about the Stolen Generation, and his continuing to place 100% of the blame for social dysfunction in remote communities on “passive welfare”.

Lastly, have we ever heard anything except rape apologia from Australian lawyer collectives? First there was the Bar Association in Victoria whining about how rape law reform would “turn our sons into criminals”; now the Queensland Law Society has called for an end to public comment on the Aurukun case, and expressed confidence in the existing court processes to produce justice in the end. The same court processes that completely failed this girl, the same court processes that allowed the crown prosecutor Steve Carter to behave like a defence attorney, the same court processes that allowed the sentencing appeal time to expire. What do we have left but public comment? Public comment is the only thing that got the government involved in standing down the prosecutor, extending the appeal time and initiating a review of other cases.

How dare they tell the people of Australia to butt out.

Edited 13 December 2007 to add: See also the video here “Revelation in Rape Case” at MSN, which includes brief excerpts of interviews with the victim’s sister and with the mayor of Aurukun Neville Pootchemunka, who is the father of one of the rapists. His son was 18 at the time of the attack. More here from Pootchemunka:

“He knows it was wrong, and he wished it hadn’t happened,” Mr Pootchemunka told The Australian yesterday. “It’s hard for me to talk about but I’ve got to lead for the whole community.

“They should not have done what they did, and the judge and prosecutors should not have said those things about the girl.”


“One of the problems with the mainstream law is that it protects young perpetrators because they don’t get any punishment,” he said.

“If we could use traditional law we could send them out of the community to live in the bush for months until the community was ready for them to return.”

Mr Pootchemunka also ridiculed suggestions that underage sex was accepted as a part of life in Cape York communities such as Aurukun. “Our traditional law is that people have to be initiated before a man and a woman can make partner,” he said. “And that means you would have been 20 or 21. Sex that young is just not part of our culture.”

Categories: gender & feminism, indigenous, law & order, violence

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6 replies

  1. Wow, Tom Calma is articulate. I hope he becomes widely quoted.

  2. . . . how sad is it that the father of one of the rapists has the most pragmatic things to say out of everyone directly involved in the case? That is fucked up. It seems to me like he has enough sense to want his son punished, which is a hell of a lot more sense than the judge had. I mean, I hate his bullshit “he wishes it hadn’t happened” comments (as though it was some kind of accident), but other than that . . . like I said, he seems to have his head screwed on straight more than either the judge or prosecutor.

  3. Tony Abbott says scrapping permits would “fail to keep ratbags out.” Whereas allowing open slather will, clearly. Completely illogical.

  4. how sad is it that the father of one of the rapists has the most pragmatic things to say out of everyone directly involved in the case?

    And far more pragmatic than the people who are waltzing around claiming that gang-raping children is just perfectly normal for such communities, you lefty-do-gooders you. (Actually, it seems to vacillate between lefty-do-gooders and string-em-uppers.)
    su: What on earth makes Tony Abbott think he’s still relevant? (Not that his ideas ever were.)

  5. So, Mr Brough, would you like us to have an intervention into the community of the girl who was gang raped in Victoria early this year? The one whose rapists filmed the whole thing, sold it to their classmates, and got off with just nine months of counselling?
    No? Oh, silly me, I didn’t realise THOSE rapists were white, and therefore it indicates an isolated incident, and can’t possibly result from abusive cycles ignored by the community at large. It’s only when it’s an Aboriginal community that we can draw those sorts of conclusions.

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