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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Nino Bucci Justice and courts reporter

Ben Roberts-Smith agreed to help Zachary Rolfe find a job outside police force, Kumanjayi Walker inquest told

Zachary Rolfe leaving the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker at the Alice Springs local court on Monday.
Zachary Rolfe leaving the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker at the Alice Springs local court on Monday. His lawyer has called for arrests over alleged threats made at the time. Photograph: Rudi Maxwell/AAP

Ben Roberts-Smith agreed to provide overseas private security contacts to Zachary Rolfe after the then Northern Territory police officer said he wanted to leave the force to find “wild work” and “dangerous shit”, a court has heard.

Rolfe shot Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker three times while trying to arrest him on 9 November 2019 in the remote community of Yuendumu, about 300km from Alice Springs. Walker, 19, stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors shortly before he was shot by the then constable three times. Rolfe was found not guilty in March 2022 of charges of murder and manslaughter relating to Walker’s death.

Rolfe is giving evidence in Alice Springs this week as part of the inquest into Walker’s death.

In a text message exchange in early 2019, Rolfe contacted Roberts-Smith for help finding work outside the force.

“Just going to try and find the most wild work around the world I guess,” Rolfe said. “I know it sounds dumb to some people but I just want some dangerous shit.”

He also told Roberts-Smith that while policing was good it wasn’t going anywhere, and he expected to be overlooked for a role with the tactical response group in favour of “girls” because of “the new diverse world”.

Roberts-Smith replied he was happy to help, and that he had contacts he could provide in Afghanistan, Syria and Africa involved in private security.

Guardian Australia has previously reported that Rolfe considered Roberts-Smith to be a mentor, and that the pair met up last year in Bali.

Rolfe was asked about the text messages as part of a series of questions about his state of mind in early 2019, only months before Walker was shot.

Rolfe agreed with Peggy Dwyer SC that he was angry that his text messages were being considered as part of the inquest. But he said he had reflected on their content, which he agreed displayed multiple instances of racism.

“I should have done better, and there are definitely words and themes that I should not have used at all, and I should have done better in some circumstances,” he said.

“I feel a sense of shame and regret.”

Rolfe also told the court he had a short fuse and was miserable in the force in the lead-up to the shooting, but said he had been good at “compartmentalising” in a way that did not impact his work.

In the year before the shooting, Rolfe had texted colleagues, friends and family, including his mother, about his concerns with the job, and was involved in several incidents with Aboriginal men and youths that had resulted in reports being made about his use of force, the inquest heard.

Rolfe also agreed he broke rules in the force regarding the use of body-worn cameras, including sharing footage taken from them improperly, the inquest heard.

In a text to his mother, Deborah Rolfe, Rolfe said he was so concerned about his “short fuse” that he had stopped going out drinking, in case someone antagonised him and he went too far.

Rolfe again expressed contrition for some of the language he used in text messages and his behaviour in sharing body-worn camera footage of him pushing over two Aboriginal men who were trying to fight each other while heavily intoxicated, the inquest heard.

Among the text messages he was asked about was an exchange he had with a fellow officer in which they discussed the fact he was known for “towelling up locals”.

Rolfe told the inquest that he was “talking shit” and venting in a professional capacity, something he considered healthy so that officers did not allow their feelings to affect their work.

He denied it exhibited the development of a bad attitude towards Aboriginal people.

The hearing was again punctuated by moments of frustration between the parties.

At one point, Rolfe exclaimed, “Whoa, let’s fucking figure this out, yeah?”, when Dwyer mentioned the name of a civilian who had exchanged texts with him.

There had been an understanding in the court that the identities of civilians who had messaged Rolfe, with some possible exceptions, would not be named.

Rolfe later apologised, explaining he had been concerned that people associated with him may be subjected to threats or violence, as he had been outside court but also since the shooting of Walker.

Lawyers for Rolfe objected on about 20 occasions to Dwyer’s questioning.

“It’s not a royal commission into Mr Rolfe, it’s an inquiry into a death,” Michael Abbott KC, for Rolfe, said.

“I have found nothing discourteous in the way he’s been treated and the manner of the examination,” the coroner, Elisabeth Armitage, responded.

Earlier on Tuesday, Abbott said police should arrest the Aboriginal people who threatened and abused his client outside court the previous day.

Abbott said it was unacceptable for Rolfe, his lawyers and supporters to be intimidated as he left court and tried to get into a taxi.

Abbott told the hearing that a group of “Aborigines” had shouted insults at Rolfe and one tried to strike him with a shoe.

He told the inquest that Northern Territory police should arrest those responsible and urged Armitage to ensure Rolfe’s security.

“He is absolutely entitled to feel safe leaving court,” Armitage said.

Dwyer said she would also help with any concerns Rolfe and his lawyers had. Dwyer told the inquest that she, her legal team and NT police cared about Rolfe’s welfare while he appeared as a witness.

Guardian Australia witnessed Monday’s incident, which occurred near the Yapa/Warlpiri camp opposite the court. Community members have gathered at the camp throughout the inquest and adorned it with signs, including some reading “Justice for Walker”.

Footage of the incident was captured by multiple media outlets, which Abbott said should be provided to police.

The hearing continues.

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