Who Watches the Watchers? Copwatch launches to support Aboriginal communities to hold police accountable

We have launched a new program to run training in Aboriginal communities about using mobile phones to document harassment by authorities.

The project, known as “Copwatch”, has been developed in response to complaints about over-policing and police abuses in Aboriginal communities. We are currently seeking crowdfunding in order to send human rights lawyers and media professionals to deliver training on using mobile phone technology,  social media and the law around safely filming police interactions and other authority figures. Over $20,000 has already been raised in over a week, and the campaign shared over 8000 times on social media.


Training will be provided on invitation only basis, with several Aboriginal communities already expressing strong interest in participating.

Darumbal woman and journalist Amy McQuire said: "Over the course of my career in journalism, I have spoken to countless First Nations people who have been left deeply affected by police brutality and over-policing in their communities.”

"There are historical reasons why there is such a tense relationship between Aboriginal people and police, and it is not going to be solved by tokenistic platitudes and the occasional 'good cop'. There needs to be justice. There has never been one police officer convicted over a black death in custody, and this is keenly felt across Aboriginal Australia. Copwatch is one way we can begin to help inform Aboriginal communities of their rights, and will give us the tools to keep the police accountable, and help make our communities safer,” said McQuire.

End Black Deaths in Custody campaigner Shaun Harris said "I hope that Copwatch will educate and empower our community to enforce rights that everybody has in this country. Anything that amplifies the voices of Aboriginal peoples can only be regarded as positive and part of getting justice for my niece Ms Dhu.”

Marwari man Des Jones who heads up the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly in Western NSW states:

“We hear a lot about zero tolerance on crime. Aboriginal peoples need to start having zero tolerance on racism entrenched in government, non-government and industry. We need to use all legal and political avenues available to expose and eradicate racism and abuse, and to bring perpetrators to justice.

National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse said “Copwatch is a project that has been a long time coming. For years, Aboriginal communities have cried out against abuses and the prejudices of government officials - and the response has been apathetic. 

This is not about attacking police. It is about the equal application of the rule of law. The law is applied with great severity to Aboriginal people - as demonstrated by their high incarceration rates. Many Aboriginal people see their treatment at the hands of our authorities as unfair when the law is not applied equally to those who enforce it. It may be that some complaints against police are unjustified. When video evidence is provided of these interactions, we will all have a better sense of what communal/police relations are really like and whether the police are willing to hold their own accountable.”

If you're interested in finding out more about Copwatch, please contact us at info@justice.org.au


National Justice Project in the news

Giving a voice to the voiceless and speaking out against injustice is an important part of our work.

Over the past month we’ve featured in the media for our work with Aboriginal people and refugees.

Our Principal Solicitor George Newhouse spoke out against Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s arbitrary October deadline for refugee asylum claims, featuring on Sky News - watch the video below.

George’s comments also featured in The Sydney Morning HeraldSBSThe West Australian and The Tasmanian Times

We appeared for Professor Larissa Behrendt at the Royal Commission into the protection and detention of children in the Northern Territory. Professor Behrendt exposed the shocking statistics on child removals in the NT since the Government's "Intervention” and called for a more community-based and supportive solution to the problem.

We assisted the family of an Aboriginal man who died in custody to seek answers about his death in a South Australian prison.  

George Newhouse also stood up for Indigenous land owners and criticised Attorney-General George Brandis’ misuse of proposed native title legislation in order to delay a Federal Court case that could derail the controversial Adani coalmine.

To get regular updates on the National Justice Project’s media work, follow us on Facebook or Twitter

National Justice Project at the NT Royal Commission

This week the National Justice Project attended the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Our Principal Solicitor, George Newhouse, represented  Professor Larissa Behrendt as she gave evidence to the Commission on the impact of the huge increase in Aboriginal child removals in the NT in the years since the Federal Government’s NT Intervention.


Since 2008, the number of Indigenous children in out of home care has increased from 9,054 to 16,816 in June 2016. It is projected that, if matters continue at this pace, by 2024 the number of child removals will equal those of the Stolen Generation period.

At the Commission hearing, Professor Behrendt gave powerful evidence of the systemic obstacles that Aboriginal families face fighting to retain custody of their children and grandchildren, and the often violent nature of child removals. There is a clear link between the care system and youth detention - as of August 2016 60% of the children in detention were in out of home care.

The National Justice Project is working with Aboriginal families whose children have been removed, as they fight for family reunification. In 2007 George Newhouse also assisted Aboriginal Communities in the NT make a complaint to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the discriminatory provisions of the NT Intervention. That complaint was upheld but the removals have continued unabated.

Calls to stop rampant health discrimination on Indigenous Health MayDay

The National Justice Project is calling for sustained action to end Australia’s rampant and widespread discrimination in the delivery of health services today on #IHMayDay.

#IHMayDay – 17 May 2017, standing for Indigenous Health MayDay – is an annual Twitter event, which provides a full-day of programming with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tweeting about Indigenous health issues. The event is the brainchild of James Cook University Nursing, Midwifery and Research academic, Dr Lynore Geia, a Bwgcolman woman from Palm Island.

Principal Solicitor at the National Justice Project George Newhouse said #IHMayDay was a perfect opportunity to shine a light onto the shocking patterns of discrimination against Aboriginal people in the health system particularly in unequal access to medical treatment.

“Many of our clients have asked us to take action to remedy systemic failures to ensure that no one else has to experience poor health outcomes and discrimination”, he said. “In addition, there is evidence dating back to the pioneering work of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody whch highlights the grave and systemic problem of Aboriginal people experiencing racism in the Australian health system.”

We at the National Justice Project have set up an Aboriginal Health Justice Project to increase access to justice for Aboriginal people who experience racism and negligence in the health system.

Professor Newhouse continued, “Today, on Indigenous Health May Day we should rightly look at improving access to proper first-world health care for Indigenous Australians. But I’m also deeply concerned about the many cases in hospitals, particularly in Western Australia and in the Northern Territory, where there have been terrible outcomes for Aboriginal Australians based on false assumptions made by health professionals that they must be under the influence of drugs and alcohol when in fact they are suffering from acute pain.”

“The National Justice Project will hold these people accountable. We seek justice and in that way we will get better health outcomes for all Australians.”

National Justice Project meets with UN Indigenous human rights investigator

This week our Principal Solicitor, George Newhouse, along with number of First Nations leaders, met with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
The meeting was held to discuss matters of justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that fall within the Special Rapporteur's mandate
Ms Tauli Corpuz's visit to Australia has included an examination of the impact of the Government takeover of remote Aboriginal communities following the 2007 intervention. She is looking at indigenous detention conditions, land rights, violence against women and the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, with her report expected to be released in September.

The Special Rapporteur is an independent human rights expert who works to find ways to achieve full, effective protection of the rights of indigenous people. She also examines allegations of violation of indigenous people's rights. The Special Rapporteur provides international support to indigenous groups on issues such as native title claims.
George Newhouse, who made the complaint to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination after the intervention in 2007 said: "We have been complaining about the impact of the intervention on Aboriginal and Torres Strait island communities since 2007 and things just seem to be getting worse. We have seen a deterioration in conditions in many communities. The scrutiny of a UN investigation will throw fresh light onto these issues."
"I'm hopeful that, working with First Nations leaders, the Special Rapporteur will be able to send a clear message to our Government that things need to change, and make effective recommendations for doing so."
“The Special Rapporteur’s visit also gave us a chance to reflect on the National Justice Project’s 'Aboriginal Health Matters' campaign to hold health services accountable for discrimination in the provision of health care.”


Federal Court rules asylum seekers can keep mobile phones in detention

The Federal Court in Sydney today (17 March 2017) has ruled that asylum seekers have the right to continue their legal fight to keep their mobile phones while in onshore immigration detention, following a class action brought by human rights lawyers the National Justice Project to prevent Serco and Border Force from seizing detainee phones.

Border Force had planned to confiscate all detainee phones and SIM cards on 19 February 2017, but were prevented by an temporary injunction obtained by the National Justice Project on behalf of all detainees with phones in detention. The government challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to hear the application but that challenge has been dismissed and the case can now proceed. 

National Justice Project Principal Solicitor George Newhouse, while welcoming today's decision, emphasised that this is an ongoing matter and that the Government is likely to appeal, saying:

"This is a small but important victory, but it's a long journey ahead and we're up against a Government that will oppose human rights at every turn."

Newhouse continued, "Seeking asylum does not make you a criminal. Mobile phones provide asylum seekers with vital access to the outside world, to loved ones and to advocates - their mental health and their families depend on this. The blanket ban on phones punishes innocent men, women and children and demonstrates the increasing criminalisation by this Government of asylum seekers who have committed no crime."

Prior to this recent policy change, asylum seekers who arrived by air had a right to mobile phones as long as they have no camera or recording facility. The new policy would see all phones confiscated and anyone found in onshore detention with a phone punished.

The National Justice Project Calls for a Royal Commission after another refugee death

In the wake of the death in Brisbane of Faysal Ishak Ahmed, a 27-year-old Sudanese refugee held on Manus Island, the National Justice Project has demanded a prompt inquest into the circumstances of the death and called on the Australian Government to institute a Royal Commission into the miserable level of medical care that refugees receive on Manus and Nauru.

 Image supplied by Ian Rintoul

Image supplied by Ian Rintoul

Adjunct Professor George Newhouse, Principal Solicitor of the National Justice Project, said, “First, I send my condolences to the friends and family of this young man; but sadly he is just the latest victim of a systemically cruel and inhumane system devised by the Australian Government.”

“Many of the vulnerable people on Manus and Nauru are not receiving adequate healthcare. It appears that Faysal did not receive appropriate treatment or timely medical evacuation and we now have another death that is likely to have been entirely avoidable.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg. The government consistently delays necessary medical treatment, often until it is too late. Evidence given at the inquest into the death of Hamid Khazaei has confirmed that the government’s political manoeuvring can be fatal.  An inquest would determine whether the Government’s actions, poor medical care or both contributed to Fayzal’s death but they take time and how many more individuals will die waiting for the government to act on such recommendations.

 Hamid Khazaei died in August 2014 after a delayed medical evacuation

Hamid Khazaei died in August 2014 after a delayed medical evacuation

A Royal Commission with broader enquiry powers into the provision of health care on Nauru and Manus is necessary. Royal Commissions can respond quickly” Newhouse said. "Look at the Don Dale inquiry by way of an example" 

Professor Newhouse continued, “The Minister for Immigration is on record complaining of a War on Christmas. Well, where is this government’s spirit of charity and love for the most desperate and vulnerable people in the world at this time?”

The NJP has called for a prompt investigation into Faysal’s death by the Queensland Coroner, as well as an investigation into the death of Rakhib Khan, who died waiting for a medical evacuation from Nauru earlier this year.

The National Justice Project has already successfully sued Peter Dutton and the Department of Immigration for negligence on behalf of a young woman who was raped and fell pregnant on Nauru (the S99 Federal Court case in May 2016).

The NJP has dozens of cases of individuals and families suffering in pain without proper care or treatment. When you take these cases into account, together with the deaths of Hamed Khazaei, Rakib Khan, the refugee known as "Omid" and now Faysal Ahmed there is an obvious and urgent need for a broader enquiry - with Royal Commission powers - into the provision of health and medical care on Nauru and Manus Island and in immigration detention on the Australian mainland. 


The shocking video of the inhumane way Ms Dhu was treated has been released. WARNING: THE IMAGES ARE DISTURBING

It is impossible to deny the inhumane treatment that #Missdhu received when you see these stark images. #MissDhu 's short life must not be in vain. The WA Government must stop locking up fine defaulters, ensure police contact the Aboriginal Legal Service when an Aboriginal person is detained & make amends to Ms Dhu's family.