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Who watches the watchers?

Media Release

Aboriginal citizen journalists to use social media to hold police accountable and make communities safer.

A new program has been launched to run training in Aboriginal communities about using mobile phones to document harassment by authorities.

The project known as “Copwatch” has been developed by the National Justice Project (NJP), a human rights law firm, in response to complaints about over-policing and police abuses in Aboriginal communities. The NJP is currently seeking crowdfunding in order to send human rights lawyers and media professionals to deliver trainining on using mobile phone technology, social media and the law around safely filming police interactions and other authority figures. Over $20,000 has already been raised in over a week, and the campaign shared over 8000 times on social media.

Training will be provided on invitation only basis, with several Aboriginal communities already expressing strong interest in participating.

Darumbal woman and journalist Amy McQuire said:

Over the course of my career in journalism, I have spoken to countless First Nations people who have been left deeply affected by police brutality and over-policing in their communities.”

“There are historical reasons why there is such a tense relationship between Aboriginal people and police, and it is not going to be solved by tokenistic platitudes and the occasional ‘good cop’. There needs to be justice. There has never been one police officer convicted over a black death in custody, and this is keenly felt across Aboriginal Australia. Copwatch is one way we can begin to help inform Aboriginal communities of their rights, and will give us the tools to keep the police accountable, and help make our communities safer,” said McQuire.

End Black Deaths in Custody campaigner Shaun Harris said: “I hope that Copwatch will educate and empower our community to enforce rights that everybody has in this country. Anything that amplifies the voices of Aboriginal peoples can only be regarded as positive and part of getting justice for my niece Ms Dhu.”

Marwari man Des Jones who heads up the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly in Western NSW states:

we hear a lot about zero tolerance on crime, Aboriginal peoples need to start having zero tolerance on racism entrenched in government, non-government and industry. We need to use all legal and political avenues available to expose and eradicate racism and abuse, and to bring perpetrators to justice.

National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse said “Copwatch is a project that has been a long time coming. For years, Aboriginal communities have cried out against abuses and the prejudices of government officials – and the response has been apathetic.

This is not about attacking police. It is about the equal application of the rule of law. The law is applied with great severity to Aboriginal people – as demonstrated by their high incarceration rates. Many Aboriginal people see their treatment at the hands of our authorities as unfair when the law is not applied equally to those who enforce it. It may be that some complaints against police are unjustified. When video evidence is provided of these interactions, we will all have a better sense of what communal/police relations are really like and whether the police are willing to hold their own accountable.”

About the National Justice Project

The National Justice Project is a not for profit legal service. We combine strategic legal action with effective advocacy to advance human rights and social justice in Australia and in the Pacific Region.

For further information please visit our website – www.justice.org.au.


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  1. will

    Sad story but no doubt true, They are disadvantaged and no one seems to have the answers or the will to do something. Utopia by John pilger is an eye opener.maybe we could ask Andrew bolt.

  2. wam

    7 and 9 and the world love brutality photos (rodney king) and show phone photos at every opportunity.

  3. Mark Needham

    There should also be a program, to show, ” Idiot watch” or “Victim Watch”. Setting up to see what we want to see, and not what actually happened.
    Gets a bit ‘gauche’ Hey!
    Mark Needham

  4. Kyran

    That it has got to a point where the police need to be subject to ‘citizen oversight’ in the absence of any other oversight is outrageous, but – in 2017 – it is totally acceptable in the ‘modern straya’. It is not, however, restricted to the police. As evidenced in this and other articles, all of our systemic interactions with our First People are based on a prescriptive rather than inclusive basis. None of them are subject to any scrutiny other than the occasional RC, the outcomes of which can be ignored once the media focus dissipates.
    As long as the ‘conversation’ is framed in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, it is doomed to failure. Until the ‘conversation’ starts with ‘we’, it will remain as nothing other than a puerile, futile exercise with no other benefit than placating the increasingly infrequent protests about the fundamental injustice of a broken system. It will simply continue to underscore the fact that black lives don’t matter. Other than the occasional need of a politician to inflate their own importance, however delusional.

    “The officer-in-charge (OIC) of Galiwinku Police Station, Remote Sergeant Nathan Conelius, has worked in remote communities for more than seven years.
    “This is the first station I’ve worked at where we’ve had an ALO, and the difference they make with community relations just can’t be beaten,” he said.”

    “The OIC of Maranboy Police Station, Remote Sergeant Bradley Gaylard, said Mr Wunungmurra provided a “vital link to the community”.
    “In terms of making the community safer, Tyrus is able to explain to the elders the reasons police are doing things and what that can do to help the community out,” he said.
    “He obviously speaks the language out here so he’s able to speak with people who struggle with English as their second language.”

    “But she said the work he had been doing with children had made one of the biggest differences.
    “It’s always a challenge getting some of the kids to school, but AJ has that high level of authority and the community has a high level of respect for him,” she said.”


    Who woulda thunk? It doesn’t quite fit into the intervention model though.

    “In 2007, as part of its emergency response to reports of child abuse in NT Aboriginal communities, the Commonwealth allocated $18 million for extra police and set up 18 new police stations.
    The Commonwealth has since given the NT Government greater power to decide how federal resources for remote policing are allocated.
    Five of the 18 new police stations set up under the intervention no longer have permanent police.
    The NT Government said the stations were still “operational” and, when needed, could be used by officers based in other towns or larger communities.”

    “Mr McConnell acknowledged there had been criticisms of the increased police presence through the federal intervention but said he wanted to see more “community-based, proactive policing” in remote communities.”


    Ah well. We can always rely on the detention system to do the right thing. Or is there a better alternative? Bearing in mind that CCTV was widely used in detention centres for decades but it only became notorious when the wider public got to see it. The Voller family, like Mr Storrar, had to endure the abuse and withstand the vilification before they could be heard. The better alternative?

    “Youth detention in the NT has become the subject of a royal commission, and Mr Voller has been free for six months, the longest stretch of time he has spent out of custody since he was 11.”

    “Kirra believes too many young people in the Northern Territory are denied access to the sorts of venues and activities would provide meaningful alternatives to drugs, alcohol and crime.
    “When you get to Alice Springs and most places in the NT, there isn’t anything to keep kids as kids. Everything is about growing up, getting a job and moving on,” she said.”

    “He was released from prison in February to the BushMob youth offender rehabilitation program in Alice Springs.
    “It was amazing, really,” Kirra said.
    “It didn’t hit me, I think, until a week after he was out, because BushMob is literally like up the road from my house, so it’s a really big difference from being 1600km away.”
    Joanne describes it as “a bit surreal”. “[I was] just so glad to see him come home … I was a bit scared that he wouldn’t end up coming home,” she said.”


    Can’t have that now, can we? A program that was at least trialling an alternative runs counter to the argument that we should just jail the miscreants.

    “BushMob had been running the trial program at Loves Creek Station, east of Alice Springs, for 14 months but said the Territory Families Department would not fix several issues which made the facility inappropriate for long-term residency.
    The organisation runs another residential facility in Alice Springs which is now the only alternative to youth detention in the Northern Territory.”

    “I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s an intent to trial alternative treatment therapies, or if there’s an intent to build bigger and better prisons.
    “What I do know is that generally speaking, incarceration for low-risk offenders isn’t working and alternative models should be trialled and as far as I know, we’re the only trial program in the NT.”


    Ah well. We can always reinvent the wheel. We can use the words ‘Aboriginal’, ‘Justice’ and ‘Agreement’ in the one sentence, a salve for the wounds.

    “The unit will consult with Indigenous communities across the Territory on how to lower Indigenous incarceration rates and, in the process, form an Aboriginal Justice Agreement between the Government and Aboriginal communities.
    Rob Hulls was the attorney-general in the Victorian Labor government between 1999 and 2010 and oversaw the creation of the state’s own ongoing Agreement in 2000.”

    “The Aboriginal Justice Unit will spend the next year consulting with communities about a range of issues including mandatory sentencing and how to build trust in the justice system.
    The government also outlined it intended to focus on what practical solutions and strategies could be implemented to reduce levels of incarceration and give more local decision-making to communities.
    Mr Hulls said critics who did not believe Aboriginal customs and culture could sit alongside or inform the way western law was conducted were wrong.
    “No governments can sit back and allow Aboriginal Australians to be incarcerated at the rates they are without actually realising that the justice system needs to change and needs to be more culturally sensitive,” he said.”


    “National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse said “Copwatch is a project that has been a long time coming. For years, Aboriginal communities have cried out against abuses and the prejudices of government officials – and the response has been apathetic.”

    “Then I go to my brother
    I say brother help me please
    But he winds up knocking me
    Back down on my knees
    There’s been times that I thought
    I couldn’t last for long
    But now I think I’m able to carry on
    It’s been a long, long time coming
    But I know a change is gonna come
    Oh, yes it will.”

    Sam Cooke had it right. Mr Newhouse is to be commended for his tireless work and his unfaltering belief. Thank you AIMN and commenters. Take care

  5. Bradley

    True wam, the commercial stations are out to lunch. They could be part of the solution and analyse problems with an eye to fixing things. But then a problem solved might have the unintended consequence of impacting the bottom line of Team Parasite. Status quo is safest, just ask the LNP.

  6. Kyran

    From little things, big things grow.

    “Jul 31, 2017 — Dear Justice supporters

    You helped us get our Copwatch campaign over the line.


    We are now in a position where the training in Aboriginal communities will commence in as little as three weeks. We will be travelling across three States and Territories with Indigenous Journalist Amy McQuire, video trainers and National Justice Project human rights lawyers. Participants will learn about their legal rights in their interactions with police and how to effectively use video for evidence and advocacy. They will also learn how drones are being used around the world to protect the environment and individual rights.

    Most importantly Aboriginal communities will form relationships with human rights and media mentors to support their advocacy and social media campaigns. Thank you for making this happen. The money you donated will see the project delivered in many more communities.

    Once again, thank you. The team at the National Justice Project are thrilled with this result and we will keep you updated on our progress.”

    It is easy to become disillusioned these days. It is, however, heartening to think that some important things are being done. The absence of politicians and bureaucrats (the causes of the disillusion) is a great help to the solutions.
    From little things, big things grow.
    Take care

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