Any issues of illegal conduct around the charging of Constable Zach Rolfe found through the upcoming coronial inquest into the death of Kumnajayi Walker would be sent to the Police Commissioner and the Director of Public Prosecutions – the very positions alleged to have been compromised by “political interference” – according to the Coroners Act.
It would also not be in the public report released by the coroner.
The coronial inquest’s processes have raised further questions over whether it is the appropriate body to get to the bottom of allegations Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker acted corruptly and allegations of political interference on the part of the Chief Minister and Police Minister in the charging of Constable Rolfe.
Earlier this week, Constable Rolfe’s father Richard Rolfe alleged that Mr Chalker had acted corruptly by burying a report into the death of Mr Walker and the NT Police Association alleged Chief Minister Michael Gunner had created the perception of political interference when he appeared at a rally in Yuendumu to tell the community “consequences will flow” just a day before Constable Rolfe was arrested and charged.
Questions have also been raised about meetings between the DPP, Mr Chalker and Mr Gunner before the charges were laid four days after the incident in November 2019.
Both Mr Gunner and Mr Chalker denied any wrongdoing and pointed to the upcoming coronial inquest as “the proper venue” for answers.
“A substantial coronial inquest is scheduled for later in the year, and many of those questions will be answered in that process,” Mr Chalker said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
“Although not a criminal proceeding, the coronial inquest process also deserves the utmost respect. The Northern Territory police will fully co-operate with the Coroner, and the inquest is the proper venue to answer or address those questions. Until that inquest is held I am constrained in what I can say.”
However, according to the NT Coroners Act 1993, “if the coroner believes that an offence may have been committed in connection with a death or disaster investigated by the coroner” they are not permitted to include that in a final report and are directed to report their suspicions to Mr Chalker and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Long-serving DPP Jack Karczewski and deputy director Matthew Nathan resigned around the same time last June, weeks before the original trial date.
Opposition CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro said she did not believe the coronial inquest was the appropriate investigatory body needed to get to the bottom of the serious allegations.
“The coroner only looks into matters ‘connected with the death’ being investigated, so it would be extraordinary for questions arising after the incident causing death – such as potential political interference in the decision to charge Constable Rolfe — to be investigated as part of a coronial,” she said.
“The only way to provide Territorians with confidence that no political interference took place in the four days between the shooting and charges being laid against Constable Rolfe is to hold a wholly independent inquiry, unconnected to government in any way.”
Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Michael Riches said on Tuesday that he was “considering” whether to launch an investigation into the circumstances leading to Constable Rolfe’s arrest and subsequent charging.
Ms Finocchiaro welcomed the potential ICAC investigation, but said, “for the community to have faith in the process there needs to be an independent Commission of Inquiry”.
A court spokesman said the inquest would likely start in September presided over by Judge Elisabeth Armitage.