Channel Nine's Story of 25 May 2020 is the Real Palm Island Rort

[by Stewart Levitt]


Lawyer Stewart Levitt (left) with Lex Wotton. Image: AAP

When Alex Heinke interviewed me for Channel 9 News Brisbane last Thursday, he did not seem particularly interested in anything that I had to say.  Surprising, since the story was on the Palm Island compensation pay-out and I am the lawyer ultimately responsible for it.


I could hardly hear him and he could hardly hear me.  He had decided to interview me outside the office building at 162 Goulburn Street where Levitt Robinson is located, despite the exceptional level of traffic noise for the COVID-19 era.  I invited his cameraman to come inside where the acoustics were better but they were both in too much of a hurry.


So it is hardly surprising that Channel 9’s so-called “Major Investigation” into the Palm Island Settlement Pay-Out contained barely a word of fact.


It was just based on racist tropes about Indigenous people and why they should not have the benefit of damages awarded to them by the Federal Court following a lengthy trial, leading to a 560-page judgement delivered in December 2016.


The facts:


  1. Not one person, already, dead during the period in November 2004, when orders were carried out by Police in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, has been awarded or paid compensation!  Children as young as three years-old, were held up by the balaclava-hooded Special Emergency Response Team (S.E.R.T.), dressed in black, brandishing automatic rifles, who menaced them and other family members in their homes.  They had entered private dwellings without warrants under the cloak of a “State of Emergency”, found by the Queensland CMC to have been unlawfully declared.


  1. Not one person has been compensated who was in gaol during the events in November 2004 on Palm Island.


  1. People who were stranded off Palm Island and were not allowed by Police to return to their homes, have received compensation but at the lower end of the scale.  Palm Island was not a “Paradise Torn Apart” by the Aboriginal residents as Heinke suggests, but an island to which Indigenous people have been exiled from their families or sent for punishment since 1918.  In 1957, seven (7) Aboriginal workers were arrested, taken in chains to the mainland for trial and sentencing, because they had protested at the fact that they were being paid roughly 25% of the minimum wage for their labour.


  1. Palm Island has been an island of bondage and subjugation for most of its history, more resembling “Nightmare Island” than “Daydream Island”.  On 19 November 2004, a young Indigenous man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, was probably beaten to death, having been arrested for singing “Who Let the Dogs Out” and refusing to kowtow to a Police Officer, the only suspect in his violent demise.


  1. That Police Officer received handsome compensation for what must have been extremely valuable contents in his residence, which he claimed to have lost in a fire ignited in the course of the Palm Island protest, which followed the death in custody.


  1. Only one person, who was dead by the time the Federal Court verdict in the Class Action was pronounced in December 2016, will receive compensation to be paid to his Estate.


  1. Fifteen and a half years have passed since the events on Palm Island for which compensation has been mostly now received, so it is only to be expected that over that period, some people who had first registered as being eligible in 2018 have since died and a few have been incarcerated.  Death does not disqualify their beneficiaries; nor does incarceration, disqualify an eligible Claimant from being entitled to receive compensation, as a victim of the events of November 2004.


  1. Incredibly and insensitively, Police found to have been carrying out racist orders, were decorated for bravery by the Queensland Government.


  1. Indigenous people who protested at the perceived attempts of Police to protect the only suspect (a Police Sergeant) for Mulrunji’s unlawful killing and who even resisted the mere notion that a Police Officer should be required to stand trial to meet a prima facie case of the unlawful killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee, faced harsher treatment from Queensland “Justice” than the Police.  But the Federal Court verdict concerning the conduct of Senior Police ultimately resulted in a compensation payout to their Indigenous victims, who suffered during the unlawful “State of Emergency”.


  1. $233,000.00 was set aside by the Federal Court for the Indigenous Consumer Advice Network (“ICAN”) to counsel Palm Islanders receiving money under the Settlement Scheme, resulting from the successful Class Action.  No similar order was made for the gullible white retirees, who had been scammed into making disastrous investment decisions, when they received compensation from the Banks, following the Storm Financial collapse.


  1. To be fair, all recipients of payouts from compensation claims should be required to obtain independent financial advice on how they should save or spend their money.


  1. It is difficult to think of a better investment by a Palm Islander than in a luxury motorboat, which can provide the triple benefits of being a vehicle for fishing (for business or pleasure), tourism and leisure.


How many spoilt white brats while away idle hours on “Daddy’s and Mummy’s boat” without facing Alex Heinke’s wry ire?


White lairs and silver spoon suckers, may enjoy the bounties of rich benefactors but Indigenous Australians are not entitled to derive similar joy from Court compensation, paid in recognition of their pain and suffering.


Finally, it is a calumny worthy of Donald Trump to state as Mr Heinke does, that “around $3 million destined for dodgy claimants is now in the process of being redirected.” The claims were carefully scrutinised and there is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that anyone paid is a “dodgy claimant.” No money is in the process of being “redirected.”


Whoever produced this segment for Channel 9 had already decided on their message and did not need the facts to get in the way.  This was an insulting story, which played fast and loose with the truth.  The truth was not a casualty because it was not even a consideration: not “fake news” but pulp fiction.


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