On 29 February, the High Court missed an opportunity to help right a wrong against Palm Island Aboriginal leader, Lex Wotton, when it handed down a judgement upholding parole conditions, which have seen Lex politically gagged since he was released.
Lex was jailed for his role in a justified protest by the Palm Island community against yet another cover-up of a death in police custody. Lex, who has been embraced as a hero by the movement to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody, was sentenced to six years and did almost two before being released on parole conditions that stripped him of his political rights. In contrast, the system has failed to hold the police officer responsible for the death in custody to account and has even promoted and compensated him!
The High Court case challenged the constitutional validity of the Queensland Corrective Services Act, which makes it a criminal offence for the media to speak to a prisoner, including a person on parole, without the written approval of authorities. The court found that, while the parole conditions “do burden communication about political and government matters,” they are “proportionate to protect community safety and prevent further crime.”
Lex’s lawyer, Stewart Levitt, hopefully commented that there could be scope for Lex to engage with the media, arguing that there would be “no reasonable basis for the director of Corrective Services to withhold permission.”
The Freedom Socialist Organiser, which has long supported the campaign to win justice for Lex, decided to test this, requesting permission to interview him. The initial request was answered with a policy document and an application form in the mail. The next step was to get a signed letter for consent from Lex, which he speedily provided. The application form and the consent letter were submitted on 2 May. It explained the FSO’s plan to publish Lex’s views surrounding the death in custody on Palm Island, the bungled investigation, his two years as a political prisoner, his thoughts about why he is being politically muzzled and his ideas about how to permanently stop Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Publication of wise words from Lex was clearly too hot for Queensland Corrective Services. A letter dated 28 May 2012, signed by Commissioner Marlene Morrison stated, “after consideration of the information provided, your application to interview prisoner Mr Lex Wotton has been declined. I trust this information is of assistance.”
This information is indeed of assistance! It confirms that Stewart Levitt’s optimism is misplaced and that the racist State will do all it can to silence Lex and end the ongoing questioning around the role of Queensland Police Officer Chris Hurley in the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee. But the questions will not go away, and the message of Wotton’s supporters is clear: you can’t gag a movement!
Lex’s legal team will pursue decisions to deny applications to allow Lex to speak. Queensland authorities also refused a request from National Indigenous Television for an interview, and the team is seeking a judicial review.
Mark your diary! Come to the winter action to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody at 11 am, 11 August, steps of the Old GPO, Melbourne. Anniversaries marked will include 20 June, the 5th anniversary of an all-white jury acquitting Chris Hurley and 19 July, the 2nd anniversary of the gagging of Lex Wotton.