Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Australia: Racial tensions simmer in Brisbane suburb

LEIGH SALES: Police blockading a street to keep two ethnic groups apart is a scene you wouldn't normally associate with suburban Australia.
But that's what's happening in the southern Brisbane suburb of Woodridge tonight after days of violence on the streets.
The fracas seems to have started with an argument between two families over who smashed up a car. From Woodridge, here's Peter McCutcheon.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Queensland police are pouring massive resources into just one street in Brisbane's south. On the footpaths, police officers are negotiating with the locals of Douglas Street, Woodridge.
(Police radio audible)
It's the front line in an effort to stop racial conflict.
This is the third consecutive day there have been police here in Douglas Street.
There are about a dozen here at the moment, more than 40 overnight. And their continued presence demonstrates a very real fear that there could be more violence.
This is what police were confronted with late yesterday afternoon.
What appears to be a long-running neighbourhood dispute between an Indigenous and a Pacific Island family is escalating.
SUPERINTENDANT NOEL POWERS: What happened here late yesterday afternoon, I suppose, is just a minor spark that really set off probably quite a few tensions that have been existing and bubbling around for a while.
It looked terrible, it was a bit hair raising there for a while, but I mean we were able to sort of settle the tensions.
PAM PARKER, LOGAN CITY MAYOR: This is a shameful look and it's bought our city into disrepute and I do want to applaud the Superintendent Noel Powers and the police officers for putting their bodies on the line.
They did an awesome job and they've been pleading for calm, cool, level-headedness and they've done a great job working with the elders and these two families to bring calm today.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: But bringing calm to Woodridge is complicated. There's a bit of history here, isn't there?
PAUL BUTTERWORTH, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY LEADER: There is, there is, there is a bit of history here.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Paul Butterworth is an indigenous community leader who says there has been a cycle of tension going back nearly five years followed by long periods of peace.
But this latest flare up, some of which was captured on mobile video on Sunday night, was the result of an argument over who was to blame for smashing a car.
PAUL BUTTERWORTH: There was always tension in the community but we always stuck by our selves, done our own thing. They done their own things, we done our own things.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Five hundred metres up the street on the other side of the police blockade, a group of Tongan youths have gathered.
What is this all about?
LIAHONA PALAU: This started on Saturday. People saying it's all about racism but to be honest it's not about racism.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Liahona Palau says he was wrongly blamed for harassing Indigenous youth and smashing a car and since then things have got worse.
LIAHONA PALAU: It was just between two families, now everyone's joined in.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: People from outside the suburb?
LIAHONA PALAU: Like outside what's going on.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Because some people are here to fight for Indigenous people, other for Pacific Island people?
LIAHONA PALAU: Like that, so once any Pacific Islander if he's here.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Most observers agree there's no simple explanation for the violence, although Liberal MP Andrew Lamming made such an attempt.
His tweet on social media, asking whether the people involved in the violence had done a day's work and whether they were on welfare, angered the local mayor.
PAM PARKER: I think when you're in leadership you have to be responsible in your comments and I don't think that was conducive to the situation.
The police have been putting their bodies on the line. They don't need any politician making inflammatory comments at this time.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: Police are now acting as mediators, holding a series of talks with elders and community leaders. The man overseeing this operation today was upbeat.
SUPERINTENDENT NOEL POWERS: I'm anticipating that there will be no further trouble today, no further flare up today or in the future.
We're working together with the Department of Communities, working together with the Council to try to get this matter resolved and get the community back to a safe and comfortable way of living.
(Footage of angry argument)
PETER MCCUTCHEON: But late this afternoon a resolution appeared elusive as police and community elders held back angry youths.
Do you think there will be more violence?
LIAHONA PALAU: Of course. You know, I can't say there's not but there will, like, I can't say the violence will stop. But I don't know, we'll still keep going.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: If the police went, would there be violence?
LIAHONA PALAU: Of course, yes, that's what I'm talking about. The violence will start.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: That's the only thing standing between peace and violence is the policing?
LIAHONA PALAU: The only thing now standing between peace is the police. If the police wasn't here it's going to get it on, because no one's going to stop. No one's going to stop it.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: I've spoken to a Tongan person who said that if the police weren't here the violence would start straight away.
PAUL BUTTERWORTH: Exactly, exactly.
PAUL BUTTERWORTH: That's right, that's right. We've got nothing against the police being here, you know what I mean, because it's not about us.
It's about creating a safe zone for that family down there.
PETER MCCUTCHEON: But this is not sustainable, is it?
PETER MCCUTCHEON: So how is it going to end?
PAUL BUTTERWORTH: Mate, the only time it will end if them people are ready to come to the table and talk.
As far as we're concerned we're ready to move on now.
We want the family to move on, we want - even if guy that they're talking about, you know, he's turned around and said, "Why don't they just say sorry?"
LEIGH SALES: Peter McCutcheon in Brisbane with that report.

Source and video here


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