Up in arms over thin blue line
Michael McKenna
26th May 2007

A FORMAL complaint has been lodged with Queensland police over police prosecutors at the opening of a Queensland indigenous court this week wearing blue wristbands in support of an officer about to stand trial over the death in custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Indigenous lawyers yesterday filed the complaint with Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, just days after he called on his 9000 officers to exercise discretion in wearing the wristbands so as to avoid provoking "a reaction".

Thousands of police officers across Queensland have been wearing the $5 wristbands, which have raised more than $60,000 for Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.

The veteran policeman will face trial next month in Townsville on charges of assault and manslaughter over the death of Doomadgee in the Palm Island watchhouse in November 2004.

Queensland's indigenous community has repeatedly complained to Mr Atkinson and the Beattie Government over the inflammatory nature of the gesture.

Mr Atkinson and Police Minister Judy Spence have refused to bow to demands to ban the wristbands.

"While it is acceptable for officers to wear the wristband in support of their colleague, common sense and discretion should be applied by individuals at some workplaces where it can be reasonably expected that the wristband may provoke reaction," Mr Atkinson said in a statement on Wednesday.

A day later, according to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, a senior police prosecutor wore the wristband at a traditional "smoking ceremony" -- attended by local Aboriginal elders -- to open an indigenous court in Cleveland, in Brisbane's eastern suburbs.

ATSILS chief executive Shane Duffy formally complained to Mr Atkinson in a letter, asking for an apology from the prosecutor and reiterating demands for the wristbands to be banned across the state.

"We would respectfully submit that the wearing of this blue wristband at such a function was highly inappropriate and highly offensive -- with the clear potential to provoke a very distasteful scene at what was intended to be a show of unity," Mr Duffy wrote.

In the letter, Mr Duffy said police had "every right" to support Sergeant Hurley.

"However,I would ask that a distinction be drawn between the support of a fellow officer on one hand, and the impression that the police are affronted by the mere charging of a fellow officer," he said.

"This has the clear potential to hold the police service out as believing that they are above the law and thus bring their organisation into disrepute.

"It is only a matter of time until the wearing of these wristbands provokes a response such that an individual ends up being arrested."

Mr Duffy said that from previous meetings with Mr Atkinson, it was apparent the Police Commissioner did not want to order the ban out of fear it could make the situation worse.

Mr Atkinson was not available yesterday for comment.