Members of all sides of the NSW upper house shed tears today as they put politics behind them to table the findings of a long-awaited inquiry into the murders of three Aboriginal children on the NSW mid-north coast.
Colleen Craig Walker, 16, Evelyn Greenup, 4, and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, 16, were murdered on Bowraville mission within months of each other during 1990 and 1991.
Despite two trials and a coronial inquest, the only man accused of the crimes – a non-Indigenous man who hung around the mission at the time – has never been convicted due to a bungled original police investigation which was severely undermined by the racism that clung to the mission.
Today, the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice handed down its report into the family response to the murders. The inquiry was announced last year following the NSW Attorney General Greg Smith’s decision not to refer “fresh and compelling” evidence in the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The evidence, which could have been admitted under changes to the double jeopardy laws, a potential world-first, was refused by Mr Smith on the grounds that if it was referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal it would be unlikely to secure a conviction.
There were doubts that the evidence, whilst “compelling”, might not have been “fresh”.
The parliamentary inquiry was seen as the last avenue to get the man accused of these crimes before court.
Today, the NSW Parliament opened its doors to nearly 50 members of the families, which stretch from Bowraville to Sawtell to Tenterfield, who packed the public gallery of the Legislative Council.
The committee handed down 15 recommendations which were all unanimously supported, with two recommendations designed to remove the roadblocks that have prevented the accused man from being re-charged with the murders of the three children.
The inquiry called on the NSW government to review section 102 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 to define the term ‘adduced’ or ‘admitted’ with “the merit of expressly broadening the scope of the provision to enable a retrial where a change in law renders evidence admissible at a later date”.
The other recommendation was that the NSW government ensure an independent assessor consider any new application for a retrial submitted to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions or Attorney General.
Chair of the inquiry, Liberal MLC David Clark was at times teary as his colleagues addressed the Legislative Council.
“A killer whose crimes represent evil at its very darkest is still free. Justice demands the killer of these three children, whose lives were brutally cut short before they ever really begun should be brought to account,” he told the chamber.
“… we have found that the impact of the families and their community… arising from the last 23 years of dashed hopes and expectations has been one of absolute devastation.
“In simple terms, the key to this elusive justice being obtained is that the hearing of the evidence in all three murders be considered at the same time and in the same court.
“This will… lead directly to the one who is the perpetrator of these terrible crimes… this is the issue that goes to the heart and soul of what this inquiry is really about.”
Greens MLC David Shoebridge’s voice broke as he addressed the chamber about Evelyn’s disappearance, and the police who didn’t take the family’s concerns seriously. Her family were questioned by police on whether she had gone walkabout.
“Can you imagine if a four-year-old girl from any other community had gone missing, there would be that dismissive response?”
Labor MLC Sarah Mitchell told the chamber she had been personally affected by the families’ testimony, and that it had been “life-changing”.
Liberal MLC Catherine Cusack said every inquiry member had cried when hearing the families’ response to these murders.
All sides of parliament were unanimous in putting forward the recommendations, and there was a rare bipartisanship shown in the chamber, with several Liberal MLCs and Labor MLCs paying tribute to the role of Greens MLC David Shoebridge for pushing the inquiry.
They also paid tribute to the work of Detective inspector Gary Jubelin, who led the second investigation into the murders, Bowraville social worker Barry Toohey, Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt, and Clinton’s sister-in-law Leonie Duroux.
Many spoke of putting politics aside to pursue justice for these three children.
The government will now have to provide a response to the recommendations, which the families are hoping will be delivered at the next sitting of Parliament.
Representatives of the families told New Matilda that it was a positive outcome.
Clinton’s aunty Helen Duroux said it was “immense” watching all sides of politics acknowledge the racism that had hindered the road to justice.
“To see that public acknowledgement as part of NSW Parliament… that was immense for me. Because being black, you get that every day. I suppose you get used to it. To have all these politicians acknowledge the racism… I thought wow, haven’t we come far. It’s taken us a long time to get there.”
Evelyn’s aunty Michelle Jarrett told New Matilda that acknowledgement was important for her family.
“Just to have that acknowledged… they’re saying we’re not liars, we were telling the truth back then that that was how we were being treated. It’s good to be acknowledged for that. It’s just really great.”
Ms Jarrett said although it was a sad day “reliving” the trauma of the lost children, it was also a positive step forward.
“It’s a warm feeling coming over you … you feel relief, like someone has finally heard our cries and our pain. So I’m very happy.”
Colleen’s brother Lucas Craig told New Matilda he had mixed emotions but it raised his hopes for justice for his sister, who has never been found.
“It was a very sad, uplifting and positive conversation… I feel that something is going to happen, that we have more hope than what we did before. I just want to keep positive and not overthink things, but today I think we’re going to walk away feeling happy.”
But there were sad overtones to the day as many politicians paid tribute to Colleen’s aunty Elaine Walker, who passed away a few months ago without seeing the report handed down.
Aunty Elaine led one of the first protests against the police response to the murders, confronting the local police in Bowraville, where the police officer told her he needed “you people” to be onside. What the community didn’t know at that time was that rather than investigating a serial killer, the community were being investigated over child abuse.
“Aunty Elaine is here in spirit, I felt her presence,” Mr Walker told New Matilda.
“She was a strong woman and never gave up… I know she would have been here to share it with us. We know she’s there in our hearts.”
The passing of Aunty Elaine poses a reminder that justice must come soon, as elders pass away without seeing justice for their children.
Ms Duroux told New Matilda she doesn’t want her children to inherit the same trauma that has torn the families apart.
“Hopefully it doesn’t go over to my kids to take up the battle. Hopefully this stops here. I don’t want my kids to carry all this anger and hurt towards the system for the rest of their life like I’ve had to do for the past 24 years.”