A report tabled by Western Australia’s corruption watchdog praising the state's police force for making changes and improving relationships with Indigenous people has been criticised by lawyers.
The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) last week tabled a report that said WA police have “taken a wider approach to transform the relationship between police officers and the Aboriginal community” by increasing cultural awareness within the force.
The report said recent steps include the establishment of an Aboriginal Affairs Division "to assist with identifying and driving ongoing cultural change as required” and “delivering contemporary training to recruits and existing Police staff on Aboriginal culture and issues affecting Aboriginal communities”.
This reported changes come after a 2015 investigation by the CCC which identified “systemic issues regarding the investigative policies and the manner in which Police interacted with indigenous people” in the unlawful conviction of Gene Gibson.
Because of a flawed police investigation, Mr Gibson – from the remote community of Kiwirrkurra – spent nearly five of a seven and a half year sentence in prison over the murder of 21-year-old Joshua Warneke.
But human rights lawyer and senior Indigenous research fellow at Curtin University Hannah McGlade told NITV News that “it is really wrong" for the CCC to be saying all is well. Particularly when racism is still occurring, she said.
“They have no engagement, seemingly, with Aboriginal people,” she said. “This report is very disappointing and shows the government and the CCC has a long way to go.”
“There is real entrenched racism, particularly in Western Australia… We need proper mandatory human rights training that addresses racism, unconscious bias and ensures that there are proper processes in place to address what is occurring.”
Human rights lawyer George Newhouse agreed. He said current evidence would suggest the relationship between the WA police and Aboriginal communities "has not improved".
"We've had the death of a 29-year-old in Geraldton several weeks ago... [and] I get daily reports of harassment and over-policing of Aboriginal communities," he said.
"Whilst I credit the commissioner with commencing the journey, there is a long way to go before Aboriginal people in WA feel as if they are getting a fair go from WA police."
In September, 29-year-old Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke was shot and killed by police in Geraldton, a coastal town 400kms north of Perth. The death almost sparked a riot when affected community members gathered outside the local police station.
"And only yesterday you had a WA senior police officer convicted for running down an Aboriginal man," Mr Newhouse said, referring to the conviction and sentencing of Senior Sergeant Richard Moore was last year was filmed ramming 17-year-old Noongar man William Farmer with an unmarked police car.
The case was heard before the magistrate's court on Monday in Perth where Mr Moore was fined two and a half thousand dollars, made to pay costs and handed a spent conviction.
The WA Police Union has since responded to that sentence by claiming the penalty was “excessive” and that such a fine wouldn’t have been given to “the average member of the community”. Plans to appeal the decision are said to be going ahead.