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"Reprehensible": Human Rights Commissioner slams Qld Police Union President's treaty claims

Dechlan Brennan -

Queensland's Human Rights Commissioner has criticised comments from the state's Police Union President, saying it was "reprehensible" in the current post-referendum climate.

Ian Leavers wrote in the Courier Mail on Wednesday that Queensland's path to Treaty would result in the justice system favouring Indigenous people.

He offered no evidence for his statements, which also included allegations that creating a presumption against bail for all but the most serious of offences would offer a "free pass to every rapist, domestic violence abuser, habitual home invader and car thief who tells police they identify as Aboriginal".

Mr McDougall rejected Mr Leavers' claim that Treaty was only a "feel good attempt to divide the state."

"In the aftermath of a referendum debate which exposed Queensland's First Nations communities to harmful levels of racist discourse, it is reprehensible to create further harm with such divisive and inflammatory language," he said.

"Any movement toward progressive change generates backlash and the Police Union President's comments reported today must be seen for what they are: part of a backlash against Queensland taking steps towards treaty.

"All this does is divert energy from the real work of change-making and make that process longer, harder, and more divisive than it needs to be."

Mr McDougall, who last week criticised a decision by the opposition LNP to abandon their bi-partisan approach to the Treaty process, highlighted the findings of an independent Commission of Inquiry into the Queensland Police Service responses to domestic and family violence less than 12 months ago.

The report, titled A Call for Change, found: "Racism is a significant problem within the Queensland Police Service. It manifests in discriminatory behaviours directed towards First Nations employees, employees from other cultural backgrounds and members of the community."

"Queensland Police Service leadership have accepted these findings and committed to working to address them, recognising change as an organisational necessity if the service is to work effectively with communities across Queensland," Mr McDougall said.

A spokesperson for the LNP did not condemn Mr Leavers' comments.

"The conversation that we've seen today is exactly what the opposition was concerned about and reinforces the view that the state will only be further divided by this debate," they said.

Mr McDougall said Mr Leavers' comments, which he acknowledged have been roundly condemned, should not "take away from the real and continuing work to address issues facing First Nations communities."

"This work includes confronting our colonial history to understand how to best respond to it continuing legacies. The truth telling inquiry is a vital part of this work and I implore all Queenslanders to embrace the opportunity it provides to come to terms with the past and to build lasting relationships between First Nations people, governments and frontline agencies including police," he said.

The colonial history of Queensland is particularly violent and devastating for Indigenous communities.

Aboriginal people were targeted in the frontier wars, including by a "native police" body that operated from 1849 until the 1920s. The unit forcibly recruited Indigenous men and told them to kill and move Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people off their land to better enable colonisation.

Mr McDougall said earlier this year it was vital the state grappled with its violent past.

"The ignorance within the broader Queensland community about what actually occurred in Queensland in the 1800s lies at the root of so many problems that we see played out day to day on the streets," he said.

In his article, Mr Leavers said people would "whip themselves into a frenzy" over his comments.

However, he provided no evidence to support his comments, which include claims that "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 further argued that Elders from Indigenous communities begged him to do "something about the huge amount of youth crime perpetrated by their own Indigenous youth".

"As I said to these Elders who looked to the police and me for help, sadly our hands are tied by the courts who continue to partake in 'revolving door' sentencing," he said.

Queensland has some of the strictest bail laws in the country, with the state breaching the Human Rights Act earlier this year to criminalise breach of bail for youths.

National Indigenous Times has spoken with legal, human rights and Indigenous groups who all argue that, along with Queensland's legislation being among the strictest in the nation, that 'tough on crime' laws also have little impact on reducing crime or protecting the community.

In the first three months after the bail legislation was introduced, 169 children - 111 of them Indigenous - had been charged under the new offence.

42 per cent of Queensland's prisoners return to custody within two years of leaving prison. Introduction to the justice system at a young age is seen as a major factor in exacerbating trauma and only making custodial sentences more likely in the future.

First Nations children account for 62 per cent of Queensland's youth detention population, and 84 per cent of youth detainees kept in solitary confinement, despite First Nations people only making up 7.8 per cent of the Queensland youth population.

However, crime rates in Queensland have gone down, with Minister Di Farmer noting a 30 per cent reduction in the last five years.

Mr McDougal ended his statement by reminding people about the legality around racial vilification Queensland and the commonwealth.

"I also remind media outlets, commentators, and people making comments in public (including online) spaces to remember that Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Act makes vilification unlawful," he said.

"First Nations people are protected in Queensland from any public statement that incites hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule towards them on matters of public interest where the words are delivered in bad faith."


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