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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5797


Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (13:22): I rise to bring attention to a tragic story, the story of Elijah Doughty. Elijah lived in the city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. He was 14 years of age. Kalgoorlie is known for the tensions that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents, but it is home for many people. This is important background for the story that follows.

Elijah Doughty was killed just before 9 am on 29 August 2016. A man in a two-tonne Nissan Navara ute ran over Elijah, who was riding a small 70cc motorbike. But this wasn't an average road accident. The man had gone to the area known as Gribble Creek to look for two motorbikes stolen from his home the day before. He said police had told him to go there because the area was a known dumping ground. When he arrived, he noticed 14-year-old Elijah on a motorbike, and he made, in his words, a 'split-second' decision to chase him. Elijah was never going to get away from the ute. The chase ended with Elijah rolled under the over-one-tonne ute. Elijah died instantly at the scene, his spinal cord severed at the base of his brain.

A bike for a life is not justice. The next day, the man was charged with manslaughter, and the town of Kalgoorlie erupted. The man's house was burnt down, and his wife and two children moved out of Western Australia because of concerns for their safety. I do not and never will condone violence in our communities, but the behaviour that followed in the community, particularly the Indigenous community, was consistent with their ongoing sense of justice denied.

The perception in the community of justice denied did not stop there. The jury of the Supreme Court of Western Australia cleared the man of manslaughter, instead finding him guilty of the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death. He was given a sentence of three years jail and a licence disqualification for two years. He will be eligible for parole and, because he has already served 11 months, the man could be out as early as January next year. There is no appeal of the sentence. The Aboriginal community felt the message was that you can kill an Aboriginal person without too much consequence.

I cannot help but see similarities between Elijah's case and the 1983 death of 16-year-old John Pat in Roebourne. It sparked the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. In Elijah's case, I do not question or criticise the validity of the court judgement, but when I saw the news breaking across the television that the accused had been acquitted of manslaughter, I knew that the community could feel that justice has been denied yet again. This was echoed across the country in the weeks that followed. In comparison to the protests that erupted after John Pat's death, the protests were largely peaceful. People marched with signs that read 'Justice for Elijah' and 'No justice, no peace'.

After Elijah's death, I sat down with Albert Doughty, Elijah's grandfather, who had been looking after him. I sat with him as a grandfather to a grandfather, listened to his story and shared his grief for his dear grandchild and the concerns he had for his other grandchildren. I'm here to recognise Elijah Doughty and the tragedy of his death. I'm here to honour this little boy, his humanity and his family.

On the day the Supreme Court handed down the sentence, once I had been able to collect my thoughts, I wrote to Albert. I found it very hard. In my mind again were the senseless deaths of Ms Dhu, in a Port Hedland lockup, and Mr Ward, fried to death in the back of a prison van on his way back to Kalgoorlie. I wanted Albert to know that Elijah's death mattered and that what happened to him was an unfair and unjust tragedy. I wanted him to know the family was not alone. And I wanted also the community of Kalgoorlie to know that they had to take compassion and leadership in this matter and that I'm confident that the community and the family will heal.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. That was quite a moving presentation, Senator Dodson.