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West Australia on trial over Dhu Death in Custody

[supplied by Dana Levitt]

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 Image: supplied

Sydney law firm, Levitt Robinson, have launched a Federal Court action in Perth to hold the State of WA accountable for the death of Julieka Dhu, who died in Police custody, aged 22, in August 2014, after being abused, manhandled, and her pleas for help, scorned and derided, by police and health personnel.

 

She had been taken to gaol with injuries which, untreated, proved terminal. Her crime: traffic fine defaults.

 

By 2016, the West Australian Law Society, in its August 2020 briefing paper on the imprisonment of fine defaulters, noted that more than 7000 people, most of them indigenous, and disproportionately female, had been incarcerated under the State’s Draconian Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Act, 1994.

 

The offensive provisions were repealed under pressure from heightened media exposure and the legal profession, at the end of September 2020.

 

The class action, brought in the names of the Administrators of Ms Dhu’s Estate, seeks compensation, including for false imprisonment for all indigenous people (and their close dependent family members), who were imprisoned under the failed law.

 

According to Senior Partner, Stewart Levitt, “This is the first prong of a two-pronged campaign to persuade the West Australian Government to enforce their recognition of indigenous people’s rights to dignity, freedom and equality before the law – West Australia has the world’s highest incarceration rate of people of a single racial group (Chinese Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province excepted). In WA, indigenous people are incarcerated at 16 times the rate of white people.

 

"The campaign’s second prong will be the commencement of a class action later this year over the inhumane and unlawful treatment of children at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, invoking i breaches by the West Australian Government of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act and of the State’s overriding duty of care."

 

The Dhu Case raises the question of whether the offending provisions in the Fines Enforcement legislation were constitutionally valid.

 

Levitt said appropriate notices are being issued to the Commonwealth and other State and Territory governments, inviting them to be heard. Banksia Hill will focus the courts and the eyes of the world on Australia’s dishonour of its international treaty obligations, with respect to the rights of children, the disabled and its indigenous minorities.

 

According to Levitt Robinson’s Banksia Hill lawyer, Dana Levitt, “The particular vulnerabilities of female Banksia inmates, make it most unlikely they will emerge with any prospect of living a normal life, particularly given that a large majority of detainees suffer from a cognitive disorder or mental illness.”

 

Last week, Levitt Robinson were contacted by indigenous community leaders in Kalgoorlie, concerning a proposed contract to provide private surveillance on behalf of the BoulderKalgoorlie Council and police, of unaccompanied youth on the Streets of Kalgoorlie, to be given to MCM Protection.

 

The company haslodged a proposal to use high-definition cameras, mounted onto their vehicles, to monitor children, out on the streets of Kalgoorlie at night. According to MCM Protection’s CEOs Steve and Deb McNamara, footage will be provided to police and State government departments for welfare checks to be made on the children and their families.

 

Stewart Levitt said, “You can bet your bottom dollar that white kids won’t be identified to police for home welfare checks unless they have a criminal record. This unconstrained surveillance can and inevitably will be used for racial profiling, to intimidate black children and teens from going into town after dark. It is further evidence of WA’s Apartheid by stealth. Courts are commonly imposing curfews and banning orders on indigenous children in Kalgoorlie for minor infractions. It continues the threat of indigenous children being stolen from their families and will alienate and terrorize indigenous families.

 

“The assault on Indigenous rights in West Australia is aided by the Courts too readily acceding to State Government applications for suppression orders, primarily aimed at protecting perpetrators, police and Government from full accountability. Is there open justice in WA?” Stewart Levitt queried.

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