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New South Wales: Redfern's Block has been a centre of activism since the 1970s.

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Monday 16 February 2004

New South Wales: Redfern's Block has been a centre of activism since the 1970s

MARK COLVIN: Redfern's Block has been a centre of Aboriginal activism since the 1970s. Lyall Munro, whose voice you just heard, was one of the original activists, as he was suggesting there and despite the many millions of dollars which have been poured into the area over the years, and attempts to improve police and community relations, the Block remains explosive.  


There are now to be several inquiries into Thomas Hickey's death, and into the subsequent riot that surrounded it, but today the politics of dealing with the social issues of the Block took centre stage, with New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, saying that he had full confidence in how the police dealt with the events of last night. Meanwhile NSW Opposition leader, John Brogden, has suggested clearing the area out altogether.  


Peta Donald with this report. 


PETA DONALD: In the latest chapter of the troubled history between police and the Aboriginal community in Redfern, the NSW Premier, Bob Carr, is firmly behind the police.  


BOB CARR: First of all I've got full confidence in the way the police tackled this incident at Redfern, serious as it was. We have full confidence, we have full confidence in the police and they have our full backing.  


PETA DONALD: The Premier announced three lines of inquiry. The coroner will investigate the death of Thomas Hickey, there'll be an internal police investigation into the riot that followed, and the Ombudsman will oversee both. 


But already Bob Carr has cleared the police of the allegation they chased Thomas Hickey to his death. 


BOB CARR: The strong advice from the police is that the police were not pursuing Thomas Hickey. They passed him in their vehicle. They were pursuing someone else, someone they were seeking because of a robbery at 6:15 am captured on closed circuit TV. There were no sirens or squealing tyres and indeed it took the police in the vehicle some minutes to return when they were alerted to the bicycle accident. 


PETA DONALD: It is the most delicate of political questions, and perhaps that's why the Premier and the Police Commissioner shared the stage today. Mr Carr went out of his way to acknowledge attempts yesterday by Aboriginal leaders to stop the riot from taking place. The Premier, instead, placed the blame on outsiders, though who that was, was never made clear. 


The Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, echoed the Premier's words. 


KEN MORONEY: It is regrettable in terms of the events of yesterday and the early hours of this morning because there has been an enormous amount of work, and much credit goes to the elders of the Aboriginal community in Redfern for the tremendous amount of work they have done, not only in collaboration with the NSW police and the police attached to Redfern, but indeed in support of their own community.  


PETA DONALD: Ken Moroney had seen up to 40 of his officers injured, with one still in hospital after being hit in the head with a brick. The allegations flying in both directions were serious and the Commissioner vowed to act. 


KEN MORONEY: This investigation will take as long as it has to. I'm absolutely determined to get to the truth, and the circumstances of how this issue occurred in Redfern yesterday and there should be no doubt about that whatsoever. It will take however long it takes me to do that. We will identify those responsible for this riotous behaviour. Equally as important, equally as important, we will identify those who were the promoters and the provocateurs, behind the riot. 


PETA DONALD: But the police stand accused of taking a softly, softly approach to Redfern by the State Opposition leader John Brogden. He argues there should have been more than four arrests and that it's time for the most dramatic of solutions to the long-running problems on the Block. 


JOHN BROGDEN: I'd bring the bulldozers in because I think allowing this to happen every couple of years, which is what is going to happen, will never fix the problem. Look, do you know who I feel saddest for? I feel saddest for a young Aboriginal kid that has to grow up in this part of Sydney and never has any chance to get out. What sort of life are we offering a young Aboriginal kid who at the age of 12 or 14 knows nothing other than grog and violence and unemployment.  


PETA DONALD: Bulldozing the famous Block will hardly be supported by Aboriginal leaders, but dealing with living conditions there is the key, according to Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway. 


ADEN RIDGEWAY: I think that there needs to be a broader ranging inquiry that looks at issues concerning social and material needs that Redfern requires. Clearly when you look at the way that indigenous policy is dealt with in this country, there seems to be this romantic view of somehow needing to deal with remote and isolated communities at the expense of those in the city. Now they have all the opportunities at their fingertips, but they're not getting jobs, they're not getting educated and health is just as poor as it might be if you were living in the Kimberlys.  


PETA DONALD: Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway.  


MARK COLVIN: That was indeed Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway ending Peta Donald's report.