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The Lynette Daley story: A failure in the justice system for Indigenous Australians

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Lynette Daley was tragically murdered in 2011 after falling on hard times (Screenshot via YouTube)

The plight of Indigenous Australians is demonstrated by the light sentencing of the two accused murderers of Lynette Daley, writes Rosemary Joiner.

IF YOU’RE NOT FAMILIAR with the story of Lynette Daley, you’re not alone.

On the Australia Day long weekend 2011, on a New South Wales beach, Lynette, an Aboriginal woman, was killed in a horrifically violent sexual assault while she was heavily affected by alcohol.

Lynette had fallen on hard times before she died. Sleeping rough, having lost custody of her children and battling alcohol addiction, she was one of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Thelma Davis, Daley's mother, speaks of the potential Lynette showed as a girl. She loved school and loved sports, but was rebellious and at age 15, she dropped out of school and fell in with the wrong crowd.

Thelma made submissions to the court, saying she still has nightmares about her daughter's death. Given the detail of this unspeakable crime, I’m sure many have had nightmares about this truly horrifying offence.

In the years following Lynette’s death, a police investigation took place and in 2014, coronial findings strongly recommended charges be laid. However, at the time, the director of Public Prosecutions did not prosecute the men who killed her. It would take nearly seven years for charges to be laid and only due to the courageous and enduring insistence of Daley’s family, who have shown a remarkable dignity in times of unimaginable grief and pain.

After a brave fight by Lynette’s family, justice was eventually served, and the two perpetrators are now serving sentences. In the end, a NSW Supreme Court jury took just half an hour to deliver a guilty verdict. Adrian Attwater received a 19-year sentence, with a non-parole period of 15 years and three months, for manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. Paul Maris received a nine-year sentence, with a non-parole period of six years and nine months, for aggravated sexual assault and hindering the collection of evidence.

As leading anthropologist thinker Professor Marcia Langton stated in her 2018 essay For her, we must:

‘The state prosecutor is required to take account of community standards, and his refusal to prosecute in 2011 reflected public acceptance of violence against Aboriginal women.’

The case highlighted clear failings, not only in the justice system but in media reporting, too.

As detailed in recent books like See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill and Fixed It by Jane Gilmore, there is a lot to be learned from how the media reports on violent crimes against women. In the Australian media, it would appear all victims are not created equal.

When recently undertaking some informal research among friends, family and colleagues who regularly listen to real crime podcasts, I revealed that of 20 people asked, not one had heard of Lynette Daley’s death.

My research script goes like this:

“Oh, you’re interested in true crime?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve recently been reading about Lynette Daley’s shocking murder case. Have you heard of it?”

“No.”

“That’s a common answer. Do you want to take a guess as to why this murder has been so underreported in the media and why justice took so long to be carried out?”

It was then up to the respondent to guess the reason.

Eighteen times out of 20, the respondent guessed (often in a hushed voice with a regretful expression), “was she Aboriginal?” Australians know that there is a divide between Black and White lives when it comes to justice and when it comes to media coverage.

Interestingly, the remaining two respondents asked, “was she a sex worker?” We all understand that there is a clear difference in the way crimes are reported and the extent to which they are reported, based on the seeming status of the victim. Sadly, we can all list a number of names of murdered women in high-profile cases from recent years. In the high-profile cases, the victims usually fit a description — white, young, traditionally “respectable” women of moral repute.

Perhaps the reason the media (and the community) respond so vocally and so prolonged in these cases is that the majority of us relate more to this victim than to others. We can see ourselves, or people we know, in the same shoes. It could have been us.

So when we read of a victim who was more troubled and more vulnerable, it’s easy to say it couldn’t have been us or someone we know and hence easy to turn away. One of the indicators of a civilised society is that everyone is worthy of justice and that all lives matter.

If Lynette Daley’s vulnerability should have guaranteed her protection and aid, her unspeakable murder should have guaranteed justice. But it was not the case.

As with so many cases of violent crime, numerous rhetorical questions arise.

When the ABC’s Four Corners program covered the story in 2016, one of the witnesses interviewed asked:

“If it was two Aboriginal fellows killed a white girl, where would they be now?”

Similarly, we might find ourselves asking if a man had gone camping that long weekend and been murdered by his campmates, how would the response differ?

Speaking outside court, Ms Daley's stepfather, Gordon Davis, said although finding closure would be hard, the family was happy with the outcome.

He also stated:

“If it was two Aboriginal boys and they had done that to a non-Indigenous person, they would've been in jail ages ago and that's the difference. I don't care how much you sugar coat it, that is the difference.”

In the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the first and last sign of civilisation is compassion.

If the measure of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable, everyone deserves a voice. And Lynette was one of our most vulnerable. For vulnerable victims (and survivors) of violent crime, a voice and justice should be the only outcomes. Only then will we demonstrate that all lives matter.

Rosemary Joiner is a free-range writer and columnist, regional voice, feminist and culture connoisseur.

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The Lynette Daley story: A failure in the justice system for Indigenous Australians

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