Bennelong Papers

The Territory’s Very Own George Floyd

The arrest and trial of NT Police Constable Zachary Rolfe (above) was incontestably a stitch-up — watch the Andrew Bolt clip below — and his treatment at the hands of NT Police subsequent to his acquittal is a damned disgrace.  So, kudos to The Australian for its no-holds barred story in Monday’s edition of an interview with the girlfriend of Kumanjayi Walker.  And again for Tuesday’s story (paywalled) of the nurses at Yuendumu.

As regards the first story, what struck me was not the extent of the violence perpetrated by Walker (right) on his girlfriend,  Rickisha Robertson, from the age of 15.  Appalling as it is, we have all become accustomed to hearing such stories in remote Aboriginal communities.  Jacinta Price has been calling it out for years.

No, what I found astonishing was the abyssal disconnect between, on the one hand, the apparent grief of Walker’s relatives and the Yuemdemu community and their condemnation of ‘white justice’, and, on the other, the complete lack of any sort of protection or genuine support offered to Walker by that community during his lifetime.  So much for the vaunted spirituality of Aboriginal culture.

The Australian tells us (emphasis added):

Other members of the Warlpiri community were increasingly concerned about Rickisha’s safety.

But it doesn’t say who these people were or what they did about it. The following extract, quoting Rickisha’s grandparents Eddie and Lottie Roberston, is just sickening:

Lottie Robertson told detectives, after Walker was fatally shot by police in November, that the escalating abuse was “no big thing”.

Following Walker’s death Eddie and Lottie both told ABC’s 7.30 program that they took Walker in when he was young and raised him until his death.

We took him under our wings to be able to give him the care, give him the love that he’s missed out on,” Lottie said.

“We had one happy family,” Eddie told 7.30.

They couple told 7.30 that their granddaughter was too upset to talk on camera.

“They met when they were only young,” Lottie said.

And their love grew deeper.”

Lottie said something similar to The Australian at the time.

“I know a lot of people talk about him, talk about his bad ways, but to me he was a human being, a respected young fellow in my house,” she said.

“He had manners. He was a quiet person.

“His smile would always make my granddaughter smile, too.”

I cannot adequately express my disgust at the underlined words. In my readings concerning Aboriginal culture, I have noted that many observers commented on how indulgent parents were to their children.  This appears to me to be indulgence to an almost criminal extent.

As to the trial itself, it seems the prosecution tried to bolster its flimsy case by highlighting Rolfe’s purported tendency to gratuitous violence:

Rolfe, who responded to about 3500 jobs in less than three years of policing, self-reported 46 incidents where he used force in the execution of his duties.

The prosecution’s Use of Force expert witness Detective Senior Sergeant Andrew Barram, from the NT Police Professional Standards Command, said that he could have handled five of those incidents better.

“In the majority of the Use of Force incidents that ROLFE was involved in, which mostly also involved other police officers, the force used was reasonable, necessary, proportionate and appropriate,” Sergeant Barram wrote.

“However, there were 5 incidents where this was not the case.

“It is my opinion that Constable Zachary Rolfe has on five occasions engaged in conduct that unnecessarily led to situations where force was then required, that would not have been necessary had Rolfe adhered to police use of force philosophy and training.

“It is my view that on these occasions Rolfe has demonstrated a tendency to rush into situations with a disregard for his and others’ safety, and a disregard for NT Police training, practise and procedure.”

Sergeant Barram refers to an incident from September 2019 where Rolfe and another officer found a man outside the Todd Tavern who they believed had escaped custody.

They began questioning the man, who was evasive, before the man fled on foot from police.

Rolfe activated his body-worn camera and chased the man for about 250m before catching up to him and knocking him to the ground.

Sergeant Barram believed that Rolfe should have “verbally directed the man to lie down so that he could be handcuffed”.

The man was taken into custody and provided medical treatment for “shortness of breath”.

In another incident in February 2019, police attended a disturbance at Araluen Park where two heavy-intoxicated men were fighting.

Rolfe pushed one of the men onto the grass rather than “lowering him down in a controlled manner”. The man was uninjured.

Rolfe told The Australian all of those incidents required force to be used.

“That force was never excessive – it was relative to the situation on the day,” he said.

The police statement of Detective Acting Commander Virginia Read from Professional Standards Command reveals that, since Rolfe’s arrest, police were reviewing every incident in which Rolfe used any force as well as a handful of complaints.

“I’ve had a number of complaints,” Rolfe said.

“Every one of those has been investigated and I’ve been cleared.”

‘Failing to lower a suspect to the ground in a controlled manner’ and failing to politely ask a fleeing suspect to ‘lie down and be handcuffed’.   Got him bang to rights there, Sgt Barram.  How did the jury not recoil in horror at these atrocities?

And ‘Rolfe has demonstrated a tendency to rush into situations with a disregard for his and others’ safety’?  Those situations might include an incident when Rolfe swam kilometres up a swollen river to rescue a stranded tourist.  An act for which he was awarded a National Police Bravery Medal.

Order Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest here

20 comments
  • Adam J

    You forgot to mention that he was stabbed and was charged not for shooting Walker – but for shooting him with the second and third bullets. Apparently you can defend yourself with only one bullet at a time.
    Policy proposal: police firearms should be manually-loaded and single-shot. (Sarcasm.)

  • Tony Tea

    Did the prosecution know it’s supposed to prosecute? The extract above reads like a defence.

  • DougD

    From the NT Independent yesterday: Police Commissioner Chalker said “A substantial coronial inquest is scheduled for later in the year, and many of those questions will be answered in that process.”

    The coronial inquiry has yet to be confirmed, the Court said on Monday, but is likely to run for three months starting in September, presided over by Judge Elisabeth Armitage.

    An inquest into Walker’s death taking 3 months and not ready to start until September. The NT coroner really does need to take efficiency advice from NT police senior command. They only needed 4 days to wrap up their investigation and charge Const Rolfe with murder.

  • Doubting Thomas

    DougD, as I recall, it took four days for them to decide to charge Rolfe. I think the burden of any reports in the media is that there was nothing even remotely like a proper investigation by anyone. The individuals who made the decision to charge Rolfe should be dismissed for incompetence and Rolfe paid compensation.

  • restt

    I am a retired Federal Police drug detective. I have arrested many people and at all times arrest is a potential high risk event – some people comply and others don’t. Where they don’t the incidence immediately escalates for you and your partner. It is never about placing a non compliant person on the ground gently – you must for your own safety and others aggressively execute the arrest. That is the Law …..nobody knows how incredibly difficult it is to arrest someone that it is hell bent on not being arrested …. you have no idea … what weapons they may have or there capacity to damage you or your partner …..a Police officer can face his death when an arrest is not effected and controlled.

    No one should resist arrest. It’s obvious.

    anyone resisting arrest, including Aboriginals, will be subject to the necessary force of the law – the officer uses force not because he wants to but because he has to. There is no peaceful loving quiet gentle event that I have seen that follows a person resisting arrest. Risk for everyone goes “through the roof”

  • Peter OBrien

    restt,
    thank you for your thoughts.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Rolfe was lucky that he had a strong, well-off and supportive family behind him. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through two years of such hell-bent prosecutorial intent to see him in prison otherwise. The punishment is definitely in the process in such cases, especially when the evidence is cooked up and the charges clearly have no merit, although if Rolfe had been found guilty, and an endless array of appeals had followed, it would have been even worse for him; as it was for Cardinal Pell.

  • Adam J

    Ned Kelly was tried within 2 weeks I think, and Rolfe got bail at least. Many people spend time in prison only to be released, and in many cases it is nothing more than State-sanctioned abuse. Our justice system is rotting before our eyes.

  • Sydgal

    I have read that the NT ICAC is considering whether there will be an Inquiry into the circumstances of the investigation and arrest of Mr Rolfe. Will there ever be a similar Inquiry into the investigation, prosecution and conviction of Cardinal Pell?

  • Claude James

    George Floyd was a career criminal, with many convictions including for violence -in his case against women, including pregnant ones.
    And he would still be alive if he did not resist arrest on the day of his even committing more crime.
    But yes, he was championed by al the left/woke people in politics, the media, academia, and by many in the legal profession.
    Floyd’s family was handed 10 million dollars by the local council to make everyone feel good -that’s ten million created by law-abiding, productive citizens.
    So yes, many parallels here -with all the sympathy in Australia for violent criminals who are always nett costs to the law-abiding folk -but whose causes are championed by those who seek to destroy Western Civ, and are winning in that endeavour.

  • lbloveday

    “……the complete lack of any sort of protection or genuine support offered to Walker by that community during his lifetime”
    .
    It’s all the fault of “the invaders” that Walker was such a disgusting criminal and in particular woman-basher – from The Australian’s Paige Taylor, Indigenous Affairs Correspondent, WA Bureau Chief:
    .
    “The case also has made me wonder about the many professionals who failed him”.

  • Suburban Boy

    “Sergeant [Andrew] Barram believed that Rolfe should have ‘verbally directed the man to lie down so that he could be handcuffed’.”

    Andy really is a card, isn’t he? When he gets booted from the force for being a waste of space, he can be confident of success in his new career as a stand-up comic.

  • Brian Boru

    The situation in remote aboriginal communities is very sad and blame lies not with Walker or Rolfe but with the industry which perpetuates and profits from it.
    .
    Lack of real employment, lack of hope for a meaningful future.
    .
    The only answer is to assist them to assimilate into the wider Australian community. That need not mean a loss of culture or pride in identity.
    .
    Instead of spending $billions on continuing this mess, help those who want to leave their community and gain real jobs. But not in the old removal style but with transport options that allow for family attachments to endure.
    .
    Offer (not compel) effective contraception to girls. Offer (not compel) training to all in useful skills and higher education away from the community.
    .
    Spend the $billions on giving remote Aboriginals a way out of their misery instead of maintaining them in the zoo’s that the industry has created.

  • tommbell

    just waiting for a withering report from the UN…..

  • john.singer

    “It is my view that on these occasions Rolfe has demonstrated a tendency to rush into situations with a disregard for his and others’ safety, and a disregard for NT Police training, practise and procedure.”

    A young Constable given this sort of report would be torn between protecting the safety of himself and others OR following practice and procedure.

    Obviously the Jury decided that Constable Rolfe rightly chose the protection of his partner over practice and procedure which may have resulted in his death or injury.

    Because of the way statistics are compiled and presented it is high time that “in Custody” was redefined. I think it illogical that someone who has escaped custody and is resisting arrest about 300 kilometres away is “in custody”.

  • GG

    It’s time for these people to get it into their thick skulls that we have the rule of law in Australia, and it’s their role to obey it, or face the consequences.

  • Tezza

    Good piece, Peter. This really is a scandal, and once again I am amazed by the instincts, courage and straight talking by Andrew Bolt. He was absolutely on the ball on this case from the outset.
    I will never forget the night I watched Bolt walked through the route Cardinal Pell was alleged to have taken to his remarkable alleged feats of sexual gymnastics. Simply filming and timing the walk was conclusive proof that the case against Pell was a complete crock. Not for the first time, I wondered whether Pell’s defence team were worth their fees.

  • lhackett01

    This matter is really about Aboriginal culture and practises in particularly remote communities.

    As Peter’s article reveals and as did three articles published in The Australian, Inquirer, March 19-20, 2022, deflection and obfuscation prevail about Aboriginal cultural practices. These latter articles addressed the Rolfe trial (The Rolfe case shows many remote Indigenous lives remain blighted), the abuse perpetrated by the Aborigine, Walker, on his girlfriend (Shameful silence is a killer in communities) and the claims about systemic racism towards Aborigines (Aboriginality is not a risk factor for child abuse).

    The truth is that elements of traditional Aboriginal culture as practised in many Aboriginal communities continue to treat women as part of a man’s property. Walker’s behaviour towards his girlfriend was not aberrant and neither was her reaction when she said, “I’m the one who was getting in his way”. The NT News published an article by MLA Bess Price on 12 August 2016 that included the statement,” “In my culture men are hardly seen as being capable of doing anything wrong — and women are the ones to blame if they should.” The abuse of Walker’s girlfriend shows that nothing has changed.

    On 17 May 2013, MLA Bess Price was reported in the NT Hansard as stating, “Within the last four months, two more young mothers related to me were killed in Alice Springs Town Camp[s]. One was injured mortally in the public, in front of several families. Nobody acted to protect her. Dozens of my female relatives have been killed this way. Convictions usually lead to light sentences. I was told by a senior lawyer that no jury in Alice Springs will convict an Aboriginal person for murder if the victim is also Aboriginal and he or she is only stabbed once.” Bess Price also stated, “Things are much worse now than the old days because of the grog, the drugs and the awful welfare dependency that is sucking the life out of us. There are elements of our culture that are really good and should be kept, but we should be prepared to do what everybody else in the world has done and change our ways to solve the new problems we have now and that our old law has no tools to solve.”

    The can be no logical argument that child abuse should be viewed through the lens of Aboriginal culture and customs any more than that female genital mutilation should be viewed through an Islamic lens. There must be one set of laws in Australia that apply to everybody, without fear or favour. Those laws, today, result in disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal children being taken into care and of Aborigines generally being jailed. This has nothing to do with racism as many commentators claim. It is entirely due to the refusal of Aborigines to forego traditional culture and their insistence that they should live according to their own rules.

    Aborigines can do much to improve their lot, if that is what they truly want. When aborigines progress from their fixation with their past culture and move to join and live with and like other Australians, and the governments of Australia encourage this change, aboriginal conditions will improve and their issues will stop being newsworthy.

  • tbeath

    On 29th January this year, the NT News Reported (a part of their story only):
    UPDATE: Harm to Territory kids has significantly increased according to the Office of the Children’s Commission (OCC). According to the OCC Annual Plan in 2020/21 there was a significant increase in the number of children who experienced multiple events of harm or abuse over the year and nearly half of these children were aged between 0-4 years old.
    The review:
    In a review of case notes for 35 children the OCC found 72 substantiated claims of harm.
    “The immediate and long term impacts of harm, particularly cumulative harm, on Territory children is of significant concern to the OCC,” said Acting Children’s Commissioner Nicole Hucks.
    “Cumulative harm refers to the effect of multiple episodes of abuse or neglect experienced by a child over a prolonged period of time.”
    Ms Hucks said the earlier children experience cumulative harm, the more significant the life-long impacts are on their healthy development. “These experiences can impede children’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth, including increased risk of developing challenging behaviours often linked to youth offending such as difficulty in regulating emotions.”Ms Hucks said work undertaken by the OCC last year into the children aged under 14 years in youth detention highlighted these long-term impacts.
    All of the children had experienced significant and detrimental cumulative harm from when they were very young, and there was a lack of support provided to the children and their families to address these concerns.

    Who’d want to be a Police Officer under the ecology of the “oldest culture?”

  • Daffy

    @Adam J. Quite right. When faced with a dangerous aggressive threat one would be crazy, if not as a police person, negligent, to rely on one bullet to stop an adrenaline powered angry suspect. One bullet, unless it was instantly fatal – an incredibly rare event – could be inconsequential. Even the 5.56 rifle shell used by the ADF can fail to stop a rushing attacker; you may need lots of them.
    This is why in US police actions shown on YouTube, the shooting often does not stop until the attacker is on the ground and still. Even then, they can be a threat and shoot an approaching police person as a last ditch action. Guns therefore always at the ready until safety can be assured.
    My advice to cops: empty your magazine, then ask questions.

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