A short documentary history of the Block in Redfern
Material from the Gary Foley Collection

NSW Govt boosts resources for Redfern police

Transcript of PM ABC Radio - Friday, 16 July , 2004  18:32:19

Reporter: Liz Foschia

MARK COLVIN: The results of the inquest on the death which sparked Sydney's Redfern riot earlier in the year have been put off. Yesterday we reported that the coroner expected to hand down his findings today. Today the family of the Aboriginal teenager who died – TJ Hickey, Thomas Hickey – were told they'd have to wait another six weeks.

John Abernathy has been urged to absolve police of any role in the death, although officers may have been following him when he fell from his pushbike and onto a fence. The 17-year-old's death, and subsequent accusations of blame, saw relations between police and the Aboriginal community of Redfern plunge to a new low. The reverberations from the nine-hour riot which followed are still being felt, and the New South Wales Government today announced a raft of extra resources for the inner Sydney suburb.

Liz Foschia reports.

LIZ FOSCHIA: As the inquest into TJ Hickey's death has unfolded over the past two weeks, two stories have emerged:

One is of a 17-year-old Aboriginal boy, so used to being stopped by police in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern that he would make a game of trying to ride from his flat to his mother's house and back, without being spotted.

The other, according to the counsel assisting the coroner, Elizabeth Fullerton, SC, is of young, inexperienced police officers, so aware of the racial tensions in their Local Command Area that their first response upon discovering TJ Hickey, impaled on a fence, was to panic and attempt to cover-up.

Ms Fullerton has told the coroner it would have been entirely legitimate of the police officers patrolling the area around Redfern railway station on February the 14th this year to have followed the teenager when he appeared before them riding his bike.

After all, he'd come from an area where a bag-snatching suspect had been sighted and he was travelling very fast. One witness said the boy's knees were almost hitting his chin.

But it's clear from the evidence before the inquest that the officers themselves weren't sure they were acting reasonably.

Ms Fullerton says manifest incongruities occur in the statements of two, who sought to distance themselves from any responsibility. While two others did not recount their movements honestly or accurately, with the result that doubt attends their actions.

Three of those four officers were relatively new to the force, and it's that issue of inexperience that the New South Wales Government is moving to address, even before the coroner hands down his findings.

Police Minister, John Watkins, announced today an extra 27 officers will be moved into Redfern, but there'll be a 12-month ban on probationary constables.

JOHN WATKINS: My understanding of the profile of the Redfern Local Command is that it has the same, relatively the same, level of probationary constables as other Local Area Commands throughout Sydney. But there is a recognition in the call from the men and women at Redfern, and our understanding of the unique policing pressures at Redfern, that more experienced police are required.

LIZ FOSCHIA: Those experienced police will include three new sergeants in criminal investigation positions and a duty officer.

JOHN WATKINS: So there are four leadership positions within Redfern Local Command that are currently not filled that will be – providing leadership to the men and women that work in the Redfern Local Command.

LIZ FOSCHIA: There'll also be a new police station, more cultural awareness training for police, and two specially trained Youth Liaison Officers.

Police at Redfern have been agitating for the changes, ever since the February riot, and were threatening industrial action.

But the Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, denies today's announcement is an acknowledgement there's a major morale problem at Redfern.

KEN MORONEY: No, far from it.

It is about learning from the issues in terms of the riot at Redfern, and how better we might be able to respond to those types of situations in the future. It's not about greater incarceration rates of Aboriginal people. It is about the fair and impartial discharge of the law, on the one hand, and the safety and the security of the community on the other, and the safety and the wellbeing of my police officers.

LIZ FOSCHIA: Final submissions in the coronial inquiry into TJ Hickey's death wrapped up this afternoon. The coroner won't make his findings until later next month. An upper house inquiry into the riot is also yet to hand down its report.

The State Government says it will be looking to both for creative new ways to address the grave problems at Redfern.

Commissioner Moroney insists progress is already being made.

MARK COLVIN: Liz Foschia.