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QPS First Nations Advisory Group calls for more action against Police Union boss

Dechlan Brennan -

An open letter from the Queensland Police Service (QPS) First Nations advisory group, as well as supporters and allies, has been released, calling on the government, the police commissioner and the entire QPS to publicly condemn the comments from Police Union President Ian Leavers.

The letter comes a year after the Call for Change: Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Responses to Domestic and Family Violence "found clear evidence of a culture where attitudes of misogyny, sexism and racism are allowed to be expressed, and at times acted upon, largely unchecked."

The letter, which is addressed to the "Minister for Police: Mark Ryan, Commissioner of Police: Katarina Carroll, Queensland Police Commissioned Officers Union Executive, and all members of the Queensland Police Service," is signed by a multitude of Indigenous, Human Rights and legal advocates.

They include former president of the Queensland Court of Appeal, the Hon. Margaret McMurdo AC; Emeritus Professor at Griffith University, Ross Homel AO; and Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, The Hon. Catherine Holmes AC SC, as well as members of the First Nations Advisory Group to QPS.

Leavers' comments in an op-ed in the Courier Mail on October 25th - where he stated a suggested commitment to not imprison anyone under the age of 16 would give a "free pass to every rapist, domestic violence abuser, habitual home invader and car thief who tells police they identify as Aboriginal," - were lambasted as "gravely irresponsible" and "blatantly racist."

The advisory group notes that they expressed their disgust in an open letter on October 26th - the day after Leavers' article - but the response they received from some was "not enough."

"We acknowledge that in response to the comments QPS affirmed its commitment to reconciliation. This is not enough," the letter stated.

"We understand that Minister Ryan stated that it 'was a matter for the union'. It is not.

"We understand that the QPS Commissioned Officers Union remained silent. The detrimental harm caused by these comments is a matter for all of us. It is a matter for those of you who have leadership positions with the QPS to take action – action that rejects racism in all its forms."

Minister Ryan said at the time that Mr Leavers comments were "very unhelpful" and divisive."

Minister for Treaty, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships, Leeanne Enoch, was more forthright in her condemnation, saying many QPS members would be "appalled" by Mr Leavers' article.

"At a time when the QPS is grappling with last year's independent review that exposed serious evidence of racism, sexism and misogyny, the head of the Police Union should be focused on working with his members to fix these issues rather than positioning himself as the flag bearer for culture wars in Queensland," Ms Enich, a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke, said at the time.

Last week, National Indigenous Times reported that a Senior Police Liaison Officer (PLO) in the QPS said Mr Leavers' comments made First Nations officers like himself feel they were being "classed as second-best".

Tony Bani of the Cairns Cross Cultural Unit said no one from the union or the QPS had reached out to First Nations officers after the comments.

"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 said.

Mr Leavers said every officer he spoke to believe any Treaty discussion would negate Law and Order.

"All police I have spoken to are very worried that the inner-city latte sippers have grabbed control of the law-and-order agenda and now wish to further attack police and water down laws as they affect First Nations offenders through the Truth and Treaty Body," he wrote.

Queensland's Human Rights Commissioner, Scott McDougall, said Mr Leavers' only exacerbated the disconnect First Nations communities had with the QPS.

"It's very concerning that anyone, let alone the President of the police union, would be making comments that are so overtly racist," he told National Indigenous Times.

"My concern in particular is how the First Nations communities of Queensland, and the First Nations staff within the police service are expected to be able to continue to maintain any sort of relationship with those comments hanging there over them."

The open letter said all members of the QPS had an "obligation and responsibility" to help change and mitigate the "the systems of violence that continue to perpetuate harm on First Nations peoples."

"You do not need to wait for the truth telling inquiry. You have the evidence to act."

"The President of the QPU, in making these outwardly racist comments, offered each of you an opportunity to actively take a stand to call out the behaviour for what it is and take action…This opportunity still exists.

"Your silence has been deafening and not unnoticed. It perpetuates the harm and upholds the status quo."

It also stated that QPS members should be aware that they would not be held "personally responsible for the atrocities of the past" in any formal truth-telling.

Instead, it would be an "opportunity for all Queenslanders to develop a direct understanding of the past, its current manifestations and ignite a deep unwavering commitment to address and dismantle the systems of racial violence that exist today."

Queensland's Path to Treaty Act 2023 was passed in parliament earlier this year with bipartisan support.

An established legal framework for a three-year "truth-telling and healing inquiry" was initially established but this has been thrown into doubt by the LNP withdrawing their support for the Treaty process, which the government said would need to be bipartisan.

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