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Queensland Police First Nations Advisory Group: "no response" from government over open letter

Dechlan Brennan -

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) First Nations Advisory Group has followed up a letter sent two weeks ago calling on the entire QPS to publicly condemn the comments from Police Union President Ian Leavers, after receiving no response.

The open letter was written in response to Mr Leavers' article in The Courier Mail on October 25, described by a Queensland minister as "positioning himself as the flag bearer for culture wars in Queensland."

His article asserted claims without evidence around Treaty and truth-telling, as well as indigenous justice, with Change the Record's Maggie Munn noting the article showed the "deep-rooted racism he has for First Nations communities."

The letter's signatories 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.

Waka Waka woman and co-chair of the First Nations Advisory Group, Christine Thomas, told National Indigenous Times two weeks on from the letter - addressed to the Minister for Police, Mark Ryan; Commissioner of Police, Katarina Carroll; the Queensland Police Commissioned Officers Union Executive; and all members of the Queensland Police Service - the group hadn't received a response.

"I think it's incredibly disappointing and concerning that you have such a large group of constituents who have raised their concerns with the minister and commissioner, and these have been met with silence," she said.

The 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."

Ms Thomas said the issue was racism, and not Mr Leavers' comments in isolation.

"The fact is racism is a matter for all of us. This is not a political issue, it's a human rights issue that we need to take an active stand on. We all have a responsibility to eliminate it," she said.

"You have an example and an opportunity in Leavers' actions to do something and…so far, they haven't".

Leavers' comments were cast in the wider context of the Call for Change: Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Responses to Domestic and Family Violence, which was released last year.

It found evidence of a culture where "attitudes of misogyny, sexism and racism are allowed to be expressed, and at times acted upon, largely unchecked."

Asked about claims in the open letter around a culture of racism in the QPS, Katarina Carroll told journalists on November 14 the statement was "incredibly disappointing."

"We know from the commission of inquiry last year there is some people [in] our organisation who've not done the right thing," she said.

"That has been addressed in the organisation: through better systems, through better processes, through the complaints system…through training, through how we respond.

"Unfortunately, what happened last year is this small minority cast great doubts across our organisation. It was a very difficult time."

When asked to denounce the "racist comments" of Mr Leavers', Ms Carrol said she had spoken to Mr Leavers personally.

"I know Ian. I don't think he purposely meant to hurt a lot of people," she said.

"My people are everything to me. I sent out an email to my First Nations people truly supporting them. I am very much supportive of a very diverse workforce. We clearly know from the evidence that it's incredibly important, for the community and our organisation.

"Anyone who makes racist comments, they are actually unacceptable. We are a nation that embraces diversity and multiculturalism."

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

A spokesperson for Mr Ryan told National Indigenous Times that since it was an open letter, "a formal written response was not required, as the Minister's position was already publicly known."

"However, the Minister has been advised that the Police Commissioner has met with the authors of the open letter," the spokesperson said.

"And in a number of public statements, the Minister has made his position very clear about the comments by Mr Leavers. The Minister has condemned the comments several times in public statements, including in a response to your media organisation some weeks ago."

National Indigenous Times reported earlier this month a long-serving Indigenous member of the QPS said a number of Indigenous officers had quit the union and called on Mr Leavers' to apologise.

Ms Thomas reminded people Australia was a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

"I wonder what people in positions of power see the relationship being as signatories to these documents when there is a silence when an issue such as this needs to be addressed," she said.

"There is a position they could take in addressing the systemic racism identified in the commission of inquiry last year - demonstrating their understanding the role of power plays in upholding or dismantling the systems of violence that continue to cause harm to First Nations peoples."

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