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Queensland Indigenous police officers quit union, call for change after president's comments on Treaty and Truth

Giovanni Torre -

Indigenous Police Liaison Officers in Queensland are calling on the state's Police Union president Ian Leavers to apologise for "disgusting" comments he made regarding truth-telling and treaty.

Senior Police Liaison Officer Tony Bani of the Cairns Cross Cultural Unit told National Indigenous Times the comments brought a number of issues to a head, and that he felt First Nations officers like himself were being "classed as second-best".

"When it comes to the service, the system forgets why we are here in the QPS (Queensland Police Service). We bring that cultural expertise and knowledge to the QPS," he said.

"I have spent 27 years as a PLO. A lot of our issues have not been addressed properly in how the system operates.

"Coming from the Islands, even on the Islands we have officers that are community police, PLOs that have no equipment, they are first responders with no equipment. We have been doing this for a long time."

Mr Bani described Mr Leavers' comments in an opinion piece, in which the union president suggested the truth and treaty body would "attack police and water down laws as they affect First Nations offenders", as "disgusting".

"The comments after the referendum were uncalled for. As a First Nations person I found them disgusting," he said.

Mr Leavers claimed the Yoorrook Justice Commission report handed down in September calling on the Victorian government to "create a presumption in favour of bail for all offences with the exception of murder, terrorism and like offences" was "effectively offering a free pass to every rapist, domestic violence abuser, habitual home invader and car thief who tells police they identify as Aboriginal".

"The establishment of the rather euphemistically named Truth and Treaty Body will… us all on a daily basis how bad all Queenslanders should feel about the First Nations people of this state and that we are all probably racist," Mr Leavers claimed.

Mr Bani said no one from the union or the Queensland Police Service had reached out to First Nations officers after the comments.

"No one has followed up with us to see how we were doing, or if we needed any support. No one has contacted us," he said.

"A couple of the PLOs have raised it, and it has been swept under the carpet. Some of the PLOs are walking out of the union, they do not feel supported.

"He (Mr Leavers) needs to publicly apologise to the First Nations officers and to the public."

Mr Bani said that "at the end of the day", First Nations officers are "here for the community and for the police".

"We are here, working 24/7. Families see us in public, even out with our own families, and they want help, they want advice. Our job doesn't end when we walk out the door, it is all day every day," he said.

"We are not recognised for the job we do. We can't claim it, it is done out of passion for the job. We want what is best for our community and the service."

Mr Bani said First Nations officers were used by the QPS "as a tokenistic flag".

"When something happens they say 'quick, get the PLOs out', but day to day we are put on the back burner," he said.

"(Mr Leavers) needs to publicly apologise to all PLOs, and to the families and communities that support PLOs.

"People are looking at getting out… QPS is doing a lot of ticking boxes, from the inquiries last year into racism in the QPS. I don't think people understand the damage or the trauma being caused for First Nations officers."

Another Police Liaison Officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told National Indigenous Times Mr Leavers had been asked to apologise and refused.

"Through our PLO network we sent emails between ourselves asking how we are going to make it better because of the things he said... A lot of our PLOs are now resigning from the union," he said.

"We can't even have a voice in our group as Police Liaison Officers… We have already had one coordinator resigning from the union and a lot of people are going to resign because of what Leavers said.

"It has gotten bad… Nothing has changed."

Queensland Minister for Police Mark Ryan told National Indigenous Times he rejected the views expressed by the Police Union head, Mr Leavers.

"I don't agree with the views Ian Leavers expressed, and I have conveyed that view to the Queensland Police Union of Employees," he said.

"While Ian Leavers' position is a matter for the Queensland Police Union, I can understand why people would be upset by his comments."

A Queensland Police Service spokesperson told National Indigenous Times the QPS "is committed to reconciliation, is involved in path to treaty, and is preparing to take part in the Truth-telling and Healing Inquiry".

"The QPS is currently represented on the Government Treaty Readiness Committee. In line with the statement of commitment to reframe the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Queensland Government, the QPS is working to build cultural capability and strengthen relationships with Queensland's First Nations communities," they said.

"In May 2023, Commissioner Katarina Carroll announced the creation of a new Executive Director position to lead a standalone QPS First Nations Unit. As a member of the QPS Executive Leadership Team, the new Executive Director will provide senior leadership to build First Nations cultural capability and responsiveness. This will include oversight of Treaty Readiness actions, such as QPS participation in the upcoming Truth-telling and Healing Inquiry.

"The Queensland Police Union of Employees (QPUE) is independent of the Queensland Police Service and questions relating to the leadership of the Union are matters for the QPUE."

National Indigenous Times has contacted the Queensland Police Union for comment.

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