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Doomadgee family pushes for interpreters at inquest

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 29 March 2005

ELEANOR HALL: To Queensland now, and the second inquest into the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee opens with a directions hearing in Brisbane today, and language is shaping up as one of the key issues of contention.

A spokesman for the Doomadgee family says he'll be instructing Aboriginal witnesses at the inquest to demand interpreters.

Brad Foster says that reports that key Aboriginal witnesses contradicted themselves at the last inquest were wrong, and that the Indigenous witnesses were simply confused by the complicated English used in court.

In Brisbane, Jeff Waters reports.

JEFF WATERS: Mulrunji Doomadgee died soon after being arrested on Palm Island in November last year.

When details of an autopsy were released, saying his massive internal injuries were consistent with a fall, Islanders rioted and torched a police station.

The coronial inquest into his death was aborted when the State Coroner dismissed himself after complaints he may have had a conflict of interest.

So it all has to start again, this time in Brisbane, with a directions hearing before a different coroner.

Doomadgee family spokesman Brad Foster wants the inquest to return to Palm Island.

BRAD FOSTER: It's very important that the people of Palm Island need to see with their own eyes that justice has been done. So it's very important that they need to have the hearing on Palm Island.

JEFF WATERS: But Brad Foster says it's even more important that Aboriginal witnesses be given interpreters.

After some witnesses appeared confused at the first inquest, language problems were raised, but the issue went unresolved.

Now Brad Foster says he'll be instructing witnesses to demand language assistance.

BRAD FOSTER: Ninety per cent of the population that are actually illiterate in our community, they can't read or write. That's a major problem. So how are they going to understand some of the legal jargon that lawyers are actually giving out to these young people.

JEFF WATERS: Why should the public be paying for interpreters, why can't these people just speak English?

BRAD FOSTER: I think it's important that the people of Palm Island have a right to speak their own language, that's part of their laws and customs, it's part of practicing their own religion. Everyone else in this country has a right to speak their own language. Look, that's something I'll be definitely talking to the witnesses about, that they should demand from the Coroner that they need an interpreter to assists them when they will be being cross-examined by lawyers at the hearing.

JEFF WATERS: Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, says if a request for interpreters is made, it will be treated sympathetically.

PETER BEATTIE: That is of course a matter for the Coroner. If the Coroner believes that they need that level of assistance they would be provided it. As a matter of course, because of our commitment to multiculturalism, if people need linguistic assistance, then we normally would support that. I'm not aware whether they've made a request for it or not, and that would be a matter for the Coroner, but if the Coroner determined that they needed it I would support him on it.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, ending that report from Jeff Waters in Brisbane, looking into one of the controversial issues being raised at that second inquest into the death in custody on Palm Island.

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