Griffith graduate plays key part in historic class action win

Barrister Joshua Creamer outside the Federal Court in Brisbane

After years of litigation, Barrister Joshua Creamer, a Griffith University graduate, is celebrating the final payments to beneficiaries of the Palm Island class action lawsuit, in which he acted as Junior Counsel.

Hundreds of residents of Palm Island will receive compensation payments this week under the terms of a $30 million settlement from the State Government, the result of the Federal Court finding that the conduct of police officers during riots in 2004, breached the Racial Discrimination Act.

Research shows that only around six per cent of class actions reach such a successful post-trial outcome and Joshua said he was proud to have been part of such an historic case for Queensland.

“What really inspired me or motivated me was just the resilience that people in that community have,” Joshua said.

“When you understand the history of Palm Island, they’ve had the most brutal types of behaviours inflicted on them and huge amounts of vicarious trauma, trauma that’s been passed down generations, inter-generational trauma.

“You see people there, some are just surviving, right? Trying to do the best they can for their families or children, grandchildren.

“And like everybody, I saw a lot of myself in the people there, they just want what everybody has, the same that we enjoy here in the city and anywhere in Queensland, in Australia.”

The barrister, who was recognised as the 2013 Arts Education and Law Young Alumnus of the Year and winner of the 2017 National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year award, said the settlement had extra significance because of his family ties to the area.

“It’ll just always have a special place in my heart,” Joshua said.

“Being from Mount Isa, I’m related to people from Palm Island, they were removed there, so we’ve got family connections, more broader Kalkadoon native title group connections.

“I spent a good three or four years there and just travelling up, spending time, staying in the motel there, meeting people, and you just develop such a strong relationship.

“You’ve got the most financially disadvantaged people in the nation who live on a meagre amount of money waiting for these huge payments to come through.

“Hopefully some will be able to buy properties. I know a lady who’s been calling me, she really wants to send her daughter to boarding school and she’s waiting for the money so she can send her. So, the things that we take for granted, hopefully people will actually do some of that.”

Joshua said his time at Griffith University Law School was crucial in his path to becoming a barrister, and the school’s focus on social justice still informs his work.

“I guess what really interested me in law was I grew up in an environment, particularly with my mother, we had a strong sense of social justice, Indigenous rights, those types of issues,” he said.

“I was interested in politics, all those things. Law really became a magnet for me to be able to go into an environment and be involved in all those issues.

“Griffith has got a strong reputation for a commitment to social justice, and that obviously was significant for me.”