Following a call from the family of West Australian Aboriginal elder Mr Ward, who died in the back of a prison van in horrific circumstances in January 2008 (see http://www.deathsincustody.org.au/ward and http://www.safecom.org.au/gsl-custody-death.htm), the Indigenous Social Justice Association — Melbourne (ISJA-Melb) organised a pre-election rally to demand an end to the privatisation of prisons, the termination of all contracts with G4S (formerly GSL, the company operating the prison transport van in which Mr Ward died), an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody, and justice for Mr Ward:
G4S, the British global security giant, is a company that has blood on its hands. Meanwhile, state governments try to wash their hands of any responsibility. While families of those who’ve lost a loved one in custody are left wringing their hands with grief.
Mr Ward, an Aboriginal elder, died in the back of a prison transport van in January 2008. For nearly 4 hours he was locked in the back with no air-conditioning and no other source of ventilation. The guards driving him, from private contractor Global Solutions Ltd, now G4S, did not check on him during the journey. The total trip was nearly 1,000 kilometres, much of it in extreme heat of 42 degrees. A police reconstruction of the journey showed surface temperatures inside the van reached at least 50C. The West Australian Coroner found the death of this well respected Warburton Elder, was caused by heatstroke sustained while being transported in the van. He said that it was “wholly unnecessary and avoidable.”
The company has a shocking record. The Victorian coroner found it contributed to a 2005 death in Port Phillip prison and that the company failed to provide a safe environment at the prison when four men hanged themselves in 1997. G4S made international headlines again on October 14 this year when a man in their care, being deported from the UK to Angola, died while being heavily restrained with what witnesses say was excessive force.
G4S, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, profits from human misery. Its nett income in 2009 was 219.2 million pounds. It’s the world’s largest security company, with operations in more than 110 countries.
We’ll serve a log of claims on the Minister demanding:
• G4S be stripped of all contracts it has been awarded by the Victorian State Government
• An end to deaths in custody — full implementation of the
339 recommendations of the 1987 – 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
• An end to privatisation of custodial services
• Immediate cessation of the Victorian Taser trial — make Victoria a Taser free zone!
The rally, at Parliament House, was addressed by Mary Micallef of ISJA, who detailed the history of Mr Ward’s death and other cases of abuse of Aboriginal people, and by Socialist Party candidate for the seat of Richmond Stephen Jolly. MC was Alison Thorne of ISJA and the Freedom Socialist Party, and an acknowledgement of Aboriginal ownership was made by Sean Prickard, also of ISJA. Also present were two nieces of Mr Ward, Lisa and Tanya, and the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (WA) Inc had sent a banner to be displayed on the occasion. Alison Thorne also read a message of solidarity from Marianne Mackay of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (see also The Ecological, Social Justice, Aboriginal Party and article in Treaty Republic).
The protest then moved to the Spring Street office of the new Prison and Corrections Minister James Merlino, where it was intended to deliver a list of demands, as set out above. Initially it seemed there was agreement that a delegation of three would be allowed in to deliver the letter, but when they attempted to do so they were turned back. So the letter will have to be sent through the post. Trent Hawkins, Socialist Alliance candidate and one of the peace protesters arrested at Swan Island last June (see report on Melbourne Indymedia) contrasted the way he as a whitefella was handled by police with the treatment routinely handed out to Aboriginal people, and Marisa of 3CR’s Doin Time program read a media release from an Aboriginal activist arrested at a Mr Ward protest. Aboriginal elder Richard Kennedy also spoke, describing some of his experiences at the hands of police.
The rally was supported by a range of groups and organisations, with representatives of women prisoner support group Flat Out especially visible.