10 May 2023

No more deaths in custody: First Nations mayors

| Matt Nicholls
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At last week’s summit in Cairns – Weipa officer in charge, Senior Sergeant Warren Flegg, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, Napranum deputy mayor Roy Chevathen and new Cape Patrol Inspector Dave Rutherford, who will move to Weipa next month.

CAPE York’s mayors have sent a powerful message to Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, demanding no more deaths in custody following an incident in Kowanyama last year.

Mayors from across the state were in Cairns last week to sit down with senior officers, including Commissioner Carroll, at the Queensland Police Service and First Nations Mayors Summit.

Hope Vale mayor Jason Woibo co-chaired the summit with the PC and said that a number of issues were raised by the communities.

Kowanyama mayor Robbie Sands, who is also the chair of the Torres and Cape Indigenous Councils Alliance, boycotted the summit, citing last year’s death in custody in his community.

He did, however, have an input into the agenda prior to the gathering at the Pullman International.

Also in attendance was the new Cape Inspector, Dave Rutherford, who starts next month after a long stint on Palm Island.

“It was a productive summit and I think everyone got an opportunity to have their say, which was important,” said Cr Woibo.

“One of the things we spoke about was the Royal Commission (into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody).

“There were 336 recommendations and yet we are still here talking about it.

“When you look at the issues they are having in Alice Springs, you find they are the same issues they were having 30 years ago.”

Cr Woibo said he was nervous sitting beside the Commissioner in what was his first major role as a chairperson, but praised the police boss for her demeanour.

“She was really good to talk to and we were able to have a yarn with her about different situations,” he said.

“I thought we had some really meaningful and genuine conversations.”

In a statement, Commissioner Carroll said she was pleased to be able to sit down with the mayors and council representatives.

“It was an honour to host the 2023 First Nations Discrete Community Mayors Summit in Cairns,” she said.

“This summit provides the opportunity to speak with First Nations Mayors from discrete Indigenous communities and the Torres Strait and discuss current and emerging issues that are faced by Indigenous communities.

“The Queensland Police Service is committed to strengthening the relationships with First Nations communities, through trust and transparency.

“It is our hope that continuing these summits and regular meetings that we together, prevent harm and develop a safer Queensland for everyone.”

Some of the other recommendations made by First Nations mayors at the summit included:

• QPS enters into an agreement with First Nations Mayors that commits parties to co-designing joint and measurable actions to improve policing and justice outcomes in discrete and remote communities.

• Implement a training and development program for incoming PLOs and ensure a succession plan is in place to replace retiring PLOs.

• Station more QPS police in communities to remove the burden of responsibility for basic law enforcement falling onto councils.

• More support for the entry of local Indigenous people into QPS, undertake recruitment drives in communities, work with schools etc. to position QPS as a career option. Transfer successful models of engagement (eg Palm Island) to other communities.

• Investigate whether recent youth justice reforms are working for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in discrete and remote communities.

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