By David Weber

Family members of an Aboriginal elder who died in custody say they are happy charges have been laid against the Western Australian Government and the private contractor involved.

Mr Ward died of severe heatstroke in January 2008 after being driven across the desert in a prisoner transport van.

It was later discovered the air conditioning in the rear of the vehicle had broken down.

WorkSafe WA has charged the state’s Department of Corrective Services, contractor G4S and the two drivers.

They are the first charges to be laid over the incident after the Department of Public Prosecutions decided last year not to pursue a criminal case.

The chairwoman of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, Marianne Mackay, says WorkSafe has made the only possible decision given the circumstances.

“We’ve been fighting for Mr Ward for a couple of years now, and the timeframe just shows how disgusting and how ignorant the Government are when it comes to Aboriginal people,” she said.

“This is more common than you realise and the way that Mr Ward died was just too horrible for them to sweep it under the carpet like they have with the rest of our people.”

WorkSafe alleges Corrective Services did not adequately maintain the van.

G4S has been charged with failing to ensure Mr Ward was not adversely affected by the conditions.

And the two drivers have been charged with failing to take reasonable care to avoid having an impact on Mr Ward’s health.

Ms Mackay says the Government should end privatisation of prisoner services.

“I want to congratulate the WorkSafe mob on their investigation,” she said.

“I think that the Government need to stand up and take back that accountability and start working to improve the lives of our people, rather than allowing private companies to just do what they did to Mr Ward and get away with it.

“It is wrong. Now if this was a non-Aboriginal person it wouldn’t have happened and that’s a fact.”

Last year the State Government paid $3.2 million in compensation to Mr Ward’s family.

‘Money is nothing’

But Mr Ward’s cousin, Daisy Ward, has always called for someone to be held accountable for his death, and she was outraged when the DPP decided not to bring charges.

She said the Warburton elder’s life could not be valued in dollars.

“Money isn’t important to me. Money is nothing,” she said.

“The human life that is taken from us was important. He was an elder and he did everything for us, and he still remains in us.

“Money is just a piece of paper.”

The maximum penalty for the department and the company is $400,000 each. The maximum penalty for the drivers is $20,000.

Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson says the process is fair and appropriate.

“The family has obviously gone through a terrible ordeal, as has the community,” he said.

“I can’t tell you how much we regret what’s happened back in 2008. And we’ve always been open right along to say if there are things we can do differently, even now after all the things we’ve done, then we’re wide open to seeing those things and doing those things.

“We want to absolutely make sure this never happens again.”

It is understood family members are still considering whether to bring civil action.



11th August 2010



Indigenous Affairs are missing in action!


NATSIEC is concerned at the lack of attention being given to Indigenous affairs in the 2010 Federal election. NATSIEC is a non-partisan organisation and does not take a position on who people should vote for. The following is offered as a guide to help you ask your candidates about some of the current issues in Indigenous affairs so that you can make up your own mind about who to vote for. 

What do we know about the Indigenous Affairs policies of the major parties ten days out from the election?


We know that Indigenous affairs are not on the agenda this election. There have been very few mentions let alone comprehensive policy statements on Indigenous Affairs. The ABC website has a section giving a comparison of each party’s policies in key areas but Indigenous affairs do not even rate a mention there (



The Labor Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin gave a speech at the Garma festival last weekend in which she stated Labor’s policy agenda for the next term. If re-elected the Labor government would essentially continue what they are currently doing. Two new policy initiatives were announced. One was that a new National Framework on Alcohol and Substance abuse would be established through the Council of Australian Governments. The second initiative was to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Australian Constitution. This would require a referendum. Given the immensity of the Northern Territory Intervention it is no surprise that there is little new in Labor’s policy platform. However, NATSIEC does have some concerns about what they have been doing and how they will continue to do it.

Labor has said it wants to reset its relationship with Indigenous peoples; that they are respecting Indigenous aspirations and are committed to forging a better future. However, in the same statement Macklin quotes Machiavelli and dismisses those who speak out as those who “think they may lose out”. NATSIEC has consistently questioned how well the Government is hearing the aspirations of Indigenous peoples and how they are ensuring negotiated positive outcomes based on those aspirations, as opposed to consulting on a predetermined policy agenda. NATSIEC is concerned as to how the genuine concerns of those who are disenfranchised or hurt by policy decisions are heard and addressed, rather than being dismissed as a natural response to change.

To see Labor policies go to the Labor Policy pages (note: as at 11/08/10 we couldn’t find an Indigenous Affairs policy document on their website).



The leader of the Liberal party, Tony Abbott, has said this week that a Liberal/Coalition government would support a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the constitution, but that it should not be rushed. The Liberal party is yet to release their Indigenous policy statement.  Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion also said on the 10th August that the Coalition would take the portfolio out of Families, Housing and Community services and create a separate portfolio with a senior Cabinet minister. NATSIEC sees this as a positive move.

Liberal policy page:

The Greens


The Greens have a comprehensive Indigenous policy addressing key issues. It is available at

Suggested questions to ask your candidates


Time is running out for the major parties to present comprehensive Indigenous policies for public scrutiny prior to the election. We urge you to ring, email or write to your local candidates and question them on their Indigenous affairs policy.

If you do not know who your local candidates are you can check at the Australian Electoral Commission website. They also have contact details listed there

Some questions you could ask are:

  • There is an intense focus on the Northern Territory, yet disadvantage exists around Australia. What is your party’s policy to ensure gaps are closed for the rest of Australia, including Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders living in urban and rural situations?
  • What are the concrete strategies and measures your party will implement in order to achieve stated goals to close the gap particularly in health and education? 
  • What is your party’s policy on the Stolen Generations post apology? What measures will your party undertake to ensure appropriate reparations are made and services are delivered to Stolen Generations? 
  • The Labor Government has supported the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP). What is your policy regarding DRIP? Specifically, how will your party implement DRIP and incorporate its principles into domestic law and policy. For example, will you assess the current NTER policies against the DRIP? What measures will your party take to ensure that all Government policy and activities are measured against DRIP?
  • How will your party ensure that they are negotiating positive outcomes based on the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as opposed to ‘consulting’ on a predetermined policy agenda?
  • What process will your party take to ensure that expenditure on Indigenous affairs is comprehensively and transparently reported? 
  • Will your party commit to long term funding in areas such as health and education? For example, ten year funding in health as recommended by the AMA.

Chris Graham – founder of the National Indigenous Times has a few words to say about Rudd’s emotional farewell speech last week.

Read the full article on the ABC

“There’s nothing more Australian than meat pies, Holden cars and Hey, Hey It’s Saturday. And maybe racism. And, as it turns out, ex-prime ministers having a bit of a cry.

Bob Hawke, of course, wept for his children. And Tiananmen Square. Rudd, by contrast wept for himself.

The former Prime Minister’s concession speech last week was, I’ll concede, emotional and heartfelt. It was hard to watch. It’s even harder to condemn. But I’m going to anyway, primarily because everything he had to say about his achievements in Aboriginal affairs are complete rubbish.” excerpt fromm his article