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NT Police Commissioner says racism claims will be investigated

Dechlan Brennan -

The Northern Territory Police Commissioner says there will be an investigation into claims of widespread racism in the force after an explosive testimony by former constable Zachary Rolfe at a coronial inquest in Central Australia.

As part of the hearing into the death of Kumanjayi Walker in 2019, Mr Rolfe told the inquest of a culture of racism in the NT police force, including slurs and racist language used "openly" by high-ranking officers.

On Tuesday, the Commissioner Michael Murphy told reporters "inquiries will be undertaken" into the testimony of Mr Rolfe, according to reports by the ABC.

Mr Rolfe said on Monday he'd been informed of an annual 'award' by the tactical response group (TRG) - an elite, heavily armed squad of officers who are required to respond to high-risk incidents in the NT - called the "coon of the year".

The recipient of the 'award' would be asked to wear a toga and carry a wooden club throughout the evening afterwards, the inquest was told.

Mr Rolfe told the inquest racism was rife throughout the force, and officers would routinely use the "n-word" as well as referring to a bar Indigenous people frequented in Alice Springs with racial statements.

"I haven't seen a lot of racist behaviour per se … [but] racist language was normalised in the NT police force," Mr Rolfe told the inquest.

He argued he was a "product" of that environment but said he didn't believe - despite the language - Aboriginal people were treated differently by police in his experience.

Mr Rolfe fatally shot Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker during an arrest on November 9, 2019, in the remote NT community of Yuendumu, 300 kilometres from Alice Springs.

He was found not-guilty of murder and manslaughter in March 2022 after a five-week trial.

Commissioner Murphy said "absolutely not" when asked if the TRG needed to be disbanded in the wake of the allegations, and said whilst he wasn't aware if the matter had been referred to the NT anti-corruption commission, a deputy commissioner "may be referring it" to the agency.

"I think that will be underway," he said.

"I won't be involved in the investigation."

Asked if he had heard the language mentioned by Mr Rolfe when he himself had visited Alice Springs, Mr Murphy noted: "I don't hear those comments".

"We've got really good people ... across the Northern Territory Police who do fantastic job every day and work tirelessly protect Territorians and all the cultures across the territory," he said, as reported by the ABC.

He said he had never used racist language or sent racist text messages himself, and noted of the force: "we don't always get it right".

"But it's about learning from that, not just as individuals, but as an agency," he said.

The inquest in Alice Springs continues.


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