Mr. Anand Grover, UN Special Raporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health findings on Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples, (4 December 2009):
“Indigenous populations are also vastly overrepresented in the prison population … Basic needs, such as adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation and access to education are not being met. Unresolved issue surrounding native titles and land rights continue to have a detrimental impact. Communities are not benefiting from the equal access to primary healthcare facilities which are at times inaccessible or inappropriate … Decades of neglect, racism and discrimination have stigmatized and disempowered these populations, impeding equal access to basic services, leaving them on the margins of the Australian society.”
When a discrete element of the population is overrepresented in the prison system, in this case Indigenous Australians, and a police service seemingly intent on abusing its power, then you have a human rights recipe for disaster.
While I don’t intend to go into facts and figures (I’ll save that for a later post), I will go into the issue of abuse of power by police and corruption within the Australian legal system.
On 9 October 2010 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article headed More will die unless Taser use restricted. Journalist Emily Howie observed that police misuse of tasers can amount to torture. Tasers are a portable torture device delivering 50,000 volts of electricity per hit. Imagine having that done to you thirteen times while pleading for you tormentors to stop. Amnesty International estimates that in 2008 more than 300 people died in the US after being struck by a taser. Tasers are potentially deadly and dangerous weapons and must be treated as such. Because police do not consider tasers to be lethal, they are used in situations where guns would be deemed inappropriate.
Because Indigenous Australians are “… vastly overrepresented in the prison population [and are victims of] decades of neglect, racism and discrimination …” (Grover, 2009) we are much more likely to become the unwanted victims of taser torture than other Australians, as evidenced by the recent incident in Western Australia.
Potentially, one of the biggest problems facing all Australians in the coming years is the power police have over the average citizen. Governments argue that this is necessary to uphold law and ensure public safety, however this comes at a cost. The cost to date has been a lack of accountability on the part of the police to anyone other than themselves. In the past there has been a chorus of outrage over the legal profession being allowed to self regulate. Why are the police any different?
In the last twelve months, we have witnessed a plethora of accusations against police racism and abuse of power emanating from Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Remember, that it is generally only the most outrageous abuse that makes the press; the true extent of the abuse of police power in the community is potentially mind boggling.
What also needs to be considered is that police services such as the Australian Federal Police are highly politicised and unaccountable. I know that the Commonwealth Ombudsman has powers of investigation, but as that office is also politicised, where does that leave the community?
A well documented case of the Ombudsman’s Office ignoring Australian Federal Police brutality is that of Darren Bloomfield. Mr. Bloomfield had two dislocated elbows and numerous other fractures, breaks and injuries all incurred at the hands of Australian Federal Police Officers. It’s amazing how often the cameras have stopped working in the Civic Police Station holding cells after prisoners have alleged being ‘bashed’ by police. What has the Ombudsman done? Nothing. Ombudsman employees are more concerned about promotion and self-interest than doing their job.
I have a letter from the Ombudsman’s Office stating that it will not investigate an allegation of racism against the Australian Federal Police and ACT Treasury because they don’t have to and they don’t have to provide a reason! They call that accountability; I call it corruption. Where does that leave the public? You be the judge as there isn’t any other.
While there is obviously a genuine need for a professional police service, police powers have to be very carefully measured against our right to basic freedoms. These include the right and expectation not to suffer the indignity of torture whether by taser or otherwise at the hands of corrupt police ‘sanctioned’ by lazy self-serving bureaucrats.
Unless your name is Paul Keating, what chance do you think you have of winning against police lies? Nil at best and if you’re really lucky, you might receive a bashing and tasering for your troubles.