Almost two years ago Mr Ward, an Aboriginal elder from the north of Western Australia (WA) was cooked to death while in custody of the WA police and prisoner transport company GSL (now G4S).
As a result of his horrific death a campaign was built by the Deaths In Custody Watch Committee (DICWC) to demand compensation for the community, that charges be brought against those responsible, and that sweeping changes be made to prisoner transport and other areas to ensure that this will not happen again.
The campaign has received mass support with a demonstration in Perth of two thousand people, a public meeting of over four hundred people and a state petition with over five thousand signatures. The pressure that the campaign has generated has forced a coronial inquest, gained recognition from the WA government that this death was avoidable and ended use of the van that Mr Ward was transported in on long distance trips.
But nearly two years on this is not enough. The community has received no compensation. Under Australian law no private company or government department can be charged over his death. In fact the contract that G4S have with the state government allows for two deaths per year! To add insult to injury G4S have recently been rewarded with a 5 year contract for prisoner transport in Victoria, in essence a signal to G4S and other companies that it is alright to kill people.
The tactic from the state government has been to delay the process at every stage in the hope that this could be swept under the carpet, as has happened with the over two hundred deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into black deaths in custody.
Some of the key demands of the campaign are the ending of the G4S contract and for prisoner transport to be brought under state control, compensation for the community, and for changes to the system from arrest to prison. For this to happen there must be links built with the Prison Officers Union and other unions and community groups and a campaign of protests at ministers offices as part of a wider campaign to put pressure on the Liberal state government.
This must be linked to the wider issues of racism in Australia. While capitalism remains Indigenous people will continue to be treated as second class citizens. The Socialist Party campaigns for unity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers and ordinary people around a joint programme of defence of democratic demands such as Land Rights and for a decent health, education, housing and job opportunities for all.
By Socialist Party reporters