• Levitt Robinson

ABC News | Palm Islanders to launch action against Channel Nine, Daily Mail over 'racist' reports

ABC North Qld / Exclusive by Sofie Wainwright

Palm Islanders say Channel Nine's report was unfair and inaccurate.(Media Watch)

Palm Islanders angered by allegedly "racist" and "vilifying" reports by Channel Nine and the Daily Mail about how they spent $30 million in compensation are lodging a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Key points:

  • Palm Islanders intend to lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Channel Nine and the Daily Mail

  • Claimants who received compensation over the 2004 Palm Island riots say the media organisations unfairly scrutinised how they spent the $30m

  • The lawyer representing the complainants says legal action may be taken if conciliation can't be achieved via the HRC

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised this article contains the names and images of people who have died.

Hundreds of members of the North Queensland community received a Queensland Government payout over the 2004 riots, which were sparked by the death in custody of Cameron "Mulrunji" Doomadgee.

The State Government reached the settlement agreement with 447 claimants in 2018.

It followed a damning 2016 Federal Court ruling that Queensland Police had breached the Racial Discrimination Act with the investigation into the death and subsequent unrest on the island, off the coast of Townsville.

But some of the claimants are now seeking redress for media reports in May that they believe also breach Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

They are signing a document, sent by Levitt Robinson Solicitors this week, to have a complaint made to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Principal lawyer Stewart Levitt represented the claimants including Lex Wotton and his family and would do so again should they choose to get involved.

The riots were sparked by the death of Cameron "Mulrunji" Domadgee,(ABC News)

Mr Levitt, who appeared in the Nine report, claimed it was inaccurate, racist and implied Palm Islanders should not have the benefit of compensation.

"Palm Island recipients of compensation … were largely vilified and great offence was caused to them by virtue of the suggestion that they were not entitled to receive that money, that they were spending it irresponsibly," he said.

"That they were basically ripping off Queensland taxpayers."

Palm Islanders have objected to some the language used in Channel Nine's promotion for the report. (Media Watch)

Media said claimants 'blew taxpayer-funded money'

Channel Nine's preview of the news story used language including, "The police station was burnt down with officers inside … Now hundreds of locals have received massive taxpayer-funded compensation cheques."

"New sports cars with custom paint jobs, luxury boats paid for in cash — a taste of what $30 million of taxpayer money is being spent on," the report said.

It also stated that one claimant "spent every cent of his payout in less than two weeks."

The Daily Mail followed the story with the headline "How locals have blown much of the $30 million compensation given to them after the Palm Island riots on lavish goods."

The burnt-out Palm Island police station after the riot.(ABC News)

Nine claimed some people who were entitled to the compensation were not on the island at the time of the riots and that there were some "dodgy claimants."

But Mr Levitt said no-one wrongly received money, and that some claimants who were not on the island at the time suffered emotionally because they were barred from returning and separated from their family.

Nine Entertainment Co., Nine's reporter Alex Heinke, and Australia are subject to the complaint.

All have been contacted by the ABC for comment.

Nine declined to comment, but previously denied racism and inaccuracies to the ABC's Media Watch.

YOUTUBE: Media Watch Palm Island YouTube

Possible class action

The document that claimants are signing also states that they agree for a company to fund any court case that may result from the human rights complaint.

Mr Levitt said it means if the conciliation is not reached through the Human Rights Commission process, the clients will seek to sue the media organisations through court.

Andrea Kyle-Sailor, whose mother was Palm Island's mayor at the time of the riots, signed the document and would be the lead applicant of the potential class action.

Andrea Kyle-Sailor, who is currently a Palm Island councillor, with her late mother, Erykah Kyle, who was the mayor of the island during the riots. This photograph was taken in 2012. (Supplied: Andrea Kyle-Sailor)

"It wasn't fair to portray us as wasting taxpayers money," she said.

"It was targeted purely at this Aboriginal community, it wasn't targeted at anybody else that's received compensation through the government — nobody else has been questioned.

"We're being made to feel guilty on what we spent the money on … I congratulate people on what they purchased.

"It's sad that trauma has to be measured by money."

Mr Wotton has previously served on the council. (ABC News: Sofie Wainwright)

Mr Wotton, who also appeared in the Nine report, said it was racist and inaccurate and has signed the document.

"We thought we had moved on from all of this stuff ... you just want to move on in your life," Mr Wotton said.

"To hear the negative things that was reported, it sort of opened up wounds.

It's really nobody's business how they spent the money."

The funder of the complaint and any subsequent legal action is listed as BLM Australia LLC, under the company Galactic Litigation, based in the United States.

Mr Levitt said it stands for Black Lives Matter and was a special purpose vehicle set up to fund this action.

Palm Island riots timeline

  • In 2004, Cameron "Mulrunji" Doomadgee was arrested in Palm Island after an exchange with a police officer and locked in a cell, before dying of massive internal injuries.

  • A week later residents took to the streets, burning down buildings including the police station. A state of emergency was declared.

  • In 2007, a jury acquitted the arresting officer, Sergeant Chris Hurley, of manslaughter and assault charges.

  • In 2016, the Federal Court found police committed "unlawful discrimination" in their response to the riots and handling of Sergeant Hurley, and ordered compensation for Lex Wotton and his family.

  • The judgement summary read officers broke into houses "with assault rifles raised, confronting unarmed men, women and children."

  • It prompted a class action of 447 claimants against the Queensland Government, which was settled in 2018 for $30 million.

Original article can be found here: