Queensland Police Union President Ian Leavers. (Image: Jono Searle/AAP)
An independent First Nations Advisory group to the Queensland police has used what they say are “factually inaccurate” and “harmful” comments made by the state’s police union boss last month to start a larger conversation around racism and structural violence within the Queensland Police Service.
Following the failure of the referendum to enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Queensland Police Union President Ian Leavers used an opinion piece in the Courier Mail on October 25th to call for the state’s Path to Treaty to be scrapped, claiming it was “Voice 2.0”, and would lead to a “free pass” on crime for First Nations people.
He wrote, “seventy per cent of Queenslanders want governments of all persuasions, state and federal, to move on from the virtue-signalling woke nonsense that is peddled in the Truth and Treaty Body and start tackling real problems, such as law-breaking in Indigenous communities.”
Shortly after the article was published, and following significant backlash and calls for him to resign, Mr Leavers doubled down in a press conference claiming the Treaty and Truth-Telling process would waste millions of dollars better spent in community.
In an open letter addressed to all members of the Queensland Police Service, the state’s Police Minister Mark Ryan, Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, and the Executive of the Queensland Police Commissioned Officers Union, the Queensland Police Service First Nations Advisory Group calls on those in leadership positions to take the necessary steps to hold Mr Leavers accountable for his behaviour.
The letter reads, “we acknowledge that in response to the comments QPS affirmed its commitment to reconciliation. This is not enough.
“We understand that Minister Ryan stated that it ‘was a matter for the union’. It is not.
“We understand that the QPS Commissioned Officers Union remained silent.”
“The detrimental harm caused by these comments is a matter for all of us. It is a matter for those of you who have leadership positions with the QPS to take action – action that rejects racism in all its forms.”
Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll also personally defended Mr Leavers last week, despite the open letter.
“I know Ian, I don’t think he purposely meant to hurt a lot of people,” Commissioner Carroll told 7News Brisbane.
The letter, released last week, has already been endorsed by the Justice Reform Initiative, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists, academics, legal and human rights advocates, Aboriginal Shire Councils, High Court judges, peak care organisations, among others.
It follows a previous statement released by the QPS First Nations Advisory Group, supporters, and allies on October 26th, stating their disgust at the “outwardly racist ideology” expressed by the President of the Police Union.
“We call on Mr Leavers to resign.”
“The Queensland Police Union Presidents’ factually inaccurate, inflammatory, and fear-mongering comments do not reflect who we are, and who we aspire to be as people in this state of Queensland.”
Co-chair of the QPS First Nations Advisory Group, Christine Thomas, has told NIRS News, the silence has been deafening and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“We wanted to draw attention to the fact that very silence is what perpetuates the harm and upholds the status quo,” Ms Thomas said.
“We are calling on the Queensland Police Service and we’re calling on members within the Queensland Police Service who do not actually stand by these comments to use their position within the Union to take all necessary steps to have him removed.”
Listen to the interview with co-chair of the QPS First Nations Advisory Group Christine Thomas:
Ms Thomas, a proud Wakka Wakka woman from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, says First Nations Police Liaison Officers are no longer feeling safe at work, they’re not feeling protected by their union, and they’re not feeling protected by their employer.
“Most employees have a union that they can turn to, but when you’ve got the president of your union body that’s expressing racist ideology, you can’t go to your union either.
“So, I am aware that a number of people have needed to take leave. I’m aware of the emotional distress, and I’m talking distress, I’m not over emphasising that. I’m also aware that people are cancelling their memberships.”
Despite the emotional stress being felt by Indigenous officers and employees of the QPS, Ms Thomas has asked members of the Queensland Police Union to use the power of their membership to urge the union to do what’s necessary to have Mr Leavers removed.
“This is not the first time that this type of commentary has come from this person. In our first media statement, we did raise our concern as to whether or not he’s a fit and proper person for that role of the president of the police union, which is why we called on his resignation.
“He hasn’t been able to take responsibility. So now we’re calling for him to be removed from that position, and we’re also wanting to see that we can engage in the very difficult conversation around racism and how we address it.
“The advisory group is intended to work in partnership with the Queensland Police Service to develop culturally safe policing strategies and environment, we need to be able to have these conversations without the defensiveness.”
Ms Thomas also highlighted the necessity for a Truth-Telling inquiry, a key aspect of Queensland’s Path to Treaty legislation, saying that comprehending the historical context of race relations in Queensland and its direct link to ongoing injustice faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is vital to dismantling current systems of racial violence.
“This is not about holding current serving members of the Queensland Police Service personally responsible for the atrocities of the past, but it is about being able to engage in a conversation so that people can develop a direct understanding of the past’s current manifestations,” Ms Thomas said.
“And hopefully ignite a deep commitment to dismantling the systems of racial violence that are leading to the overrepresentation of First Nations peoples in custody, and the really concerning numbers of Black deaths in custody.”
Queensland’s Interim Truth and Treaty Body, the independent body responsible for establishing Treaty and Truth-Telling framework in the state, have also condemned Mr Leavers comments, showing support for the demands from the QPS First Nations Advisory Group.
Co-chair of the ITTB, Mick Gooda, has previously stated he wants other Queensland police officers and Queensland Police Union members to stand up and say that’s not out view.
“The union represent most police officers in Queensland … if that’s the view of the police, what confidence do we have that we’re going to get a fair go when any of our mob get pulled up by police in this state?”
“That’s a prime example of that abuse that’s coming from the [Queensland Police] Union,” the Ghungalu man told NIRS News.
The open letter also makes reference to a 2022 Commission of Inquiry into Queensland Police Responses to Domestic and Family Violence, which identified a ‘failure of leadership’ allowing unchecked racism, sexism, misogyny, fear and silence within the QPS, the advisory group urged immediate action without waiting for the Truth-Telling inquiry.
“The President of the QPU in making these outwardly racist comments, offered each of you an opportunity to actively take a stand to call out the behaviour for what it is and take action; demonstrating to your own staff and the public that the “Call for Change” from the independent inquiry was heard. This opportunity still exists,” the letter states.
Ms Thomas finished with a callout to anyone within Indigenous communities, allies, organisations, or individuals to show support by joining their cause, signing the open letter, and actively engaging in the ongoing work to address racism within law enforcement.
“The open letter and the media response are just our first steps, and we will be doing everything that we can to engage in the conversation about racism and structural violence, and particularly in the environment of policing, which is a nationwide issue.
“It’s not a Queensland issue alone.”