The Brough and tumble of a cover-up

Sydney Morning herald
July 29, 2006
By Alan Ramsey

'HELLO everyone," said the email. "The AFP issued a search warrant on my house on Friday, and I was suspended from my day job at OIPC on Sunday. Wanted to let our network know. Happy for your support, verbally or in your thoughts." It was signed Tjanara Goreng.

Her email circulated on Tuesday. Five federal police, scrupulously polite, had knocked on the door of Goreng's Canberra home four days earlier. There was no nasty stuff, no boof-headed tearing up the house. When police left they took two computers and a sheaf of documents.

Well done, Mal Brough, politician.

Another day's work in John Howard's Australia.

Tjanara Goreng is not a terrorist. She is a bureaucrat. She also has Aboriginal heritage. The "day job" she mentions is in the Howard Government's Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination, where she is a branch manager. Brough is her minister. His department had sooled the police onto her home for "evidential material" that Goreng had leaked an internal OIPC email to the press. Not the press at large, either.

The National Indigenous Times is an independent fortnightly with a national if minuscule circulation of 10,000 copies an issue. It has one journalist, four full-time staff, a bunch of contributors, not a cent of public subsidy and is produced out of the basement of its editor's Canberra home. Yet still it manages to make a habit of getting right up the Government's nose by publishing embarrassing departmental documents.

The paper's mainstream colleagues recognise this. The Times's founding editor, Chris Graham, and a senior writer, Brian Johnstone, won a prestigious Walkley Award for journalism last year by reporting details of a highly sensitive cabinet submission on Aboriginal spending. Now, in pursuing the bumbling Brough, the paper has been banging away for two issues on what might best be called the Affair of Mal the Mouth in Covering His Arse with the Help of the ABC.

That's right, your Eight Cents a Day (or used to be) ABC, our sainted national broadcaster. More specifically, ABC television's Lateline program.

Before we go further, note well the following.

In the search warrant issued under the "Crimes Act 1914" on Tjanara Goreng's home nine days ago, seeking "originals or copies of - diaries, telephone records, email addresses, business and private addresses, notes, service provider account details, letters, emails, facsimiles, business records, computer hardware and software, discs and CDs, media records, newspapers and electronic records", it referred to 16 specific names, among them those of "Gregory Andrews and Wayne Gibbons", both senior bureaucrats and advisers to Brough, as well as naming the National Indigenous Times and Lateline.

Gibbons heads the Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination, the white-run successor to the black-run ATSIC, the Hawke government's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission which the Howard Government spent nine years slowly garrotting. Andrews is a key figure in the Gibbons office.

He is the key figure in this story.

One other point. When the Howard Government came to office in March 1996, one of the issues it took on with gusto at its first meeting of the new Howard cabinet the following month was the "waste, fraud and ineptitude" in ATSIC's near-$1 billion budget for indigenous programs.

Howard walked out of that first cabinet meeting and announced a "series of reforms" to funding of indigenous programs, including the appointment of a "special auditor" to oversee all ATSIC spending. John Herron, Howard's Queensland joke of a junior minister, even went so far as to rush onto John Laws's inflammatory radio program to crow that perhaps "up to $100 million" a year could be saved from ATSIC's "waste and extravagance". When the political blood cooled, such sums were found to exist only in the new Government's rhetoric. Even the appointment of a special auditor was found to be illegal. So much for competence.

What the oafish exercise did, though, in a shrill climate where Pauline Hanson's ignorance was on the rise with voters, was make clear to everyone the Howard Government's loathing of ATSIC and all that its flawed structure of a measure of indigenous self-government meant to the Coalition and its deeply prejudiced adherents. Ten years later and Mal Brough - who came into politics in that 1996 anti-Labor landslide and now sits in the Howard inner cabinet - is repeating the brash idiocy of Herron 10 years earlier.

It happened like this.

Brough appeared on Lateline 10 weeks ago, on May 16. Twenty-four hours earlier, Lateline's anchor, Tony Jones, had interviewed the Alice Springs Crown prosecutor, Nannette Rogers, on a conference paper she'd given about appalling violence against children, including sexual violence, in remote Aboriginal communities. Brough, all hairy-chested, weighed in to take the issue a nightmare further.

In the midst of a general spray in which he did not identify specific communities, Brough told Jones: "Everybody in those communities knows who runs the pedophile rings."

Jones: "You just said something which astonishes me. You said pedophile rings. What evidence is there of that?"

Brough insisted there was "considerable evidence" but gave no detail. Instead he made the blanket assertion of "people at very senior level" who "use children at their own whim".

Next day, when an angry Clare Martin, the Northern Territory's Labor Chief Minister, called on Brough "to put up or shut up" on his pedophile allegations, Brough evaded the challenge and said nothing.

Then the ABC got busy.

Five weeks later, on June 21, Lateline's ABC radio colleagues went to air on that day's PM program to promote a "special report on Lateline tonight" on "unchecked pedophilia in some Aboriginal communities". It even ran a voice clip of an "anonymous witness" saying: "It's true. I've been told by a number of people of men getting young girls and keeping them as sex slaves."

Lateline's star interview that night was a man whose face was kept in shadow and whose voice was distorted. He was identified on the program only as an anonymous "former youth worker". In a series of inflammatory remarks he supported entirely what Brough had told Jones five weeks earlier about "pedophiles" in remote communities.

However, Lateline named only one Aboriginal community. That was the community of Mutitjulu, the legal custodians of Uluru, Australia's most iconic natural tourist attraction. Twenty years ago the Hawke government acknowledged Aboriginal ownership of Ayers Rock, as it was called, a sacred site, established legal title of the entire surrounding area as Aboriginal land, and made the local Mutitjulu people Uluru's custodians.

The day after the Lateline "special" on June 21, Brough finally responded, in a formal press statement, to Clare Martin's "put up or shut up" challenge more than a month earlier. Information had been passed on, Brough said, to Northern Territory police, but he'd been advised that "for legal and confidentiality reasons, I am unable to disclose detail".

And that was that.

Three weeks later, in its issue of July 13, the National Indigenous Times outed the anonymous "former youth worker" on Lateline as Gregory Andrews, the senior executive service bureaucrat and Brough adviser who works for Wayne Gibbons in the Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination. The same Greg Andrews since named in print last weekend by The Canberra Times and on the Crikey website as the bogus Lateline "youth worker". The same Gregory Andrews whose name appears on the Federal Police warrant used to search the home of Tjanara Goreng eight days ago and whom Brough's department has now suspended.

And what does Lateline have to say?

After Times editor Chris Graham persisted with emails to Lateline as to why it had misled viewers by presenting, as an "anonymous youth worker', a senior Government bureaucrat who was supporting the unsubstantiated word of his minister, the program's executive producer, Peter Charley, responded three times: on July 15, July 19 and July 20.

The ABC's Suzanne Smith, who put together the June 21 "special report" featuring the Gregory interview, told Graham by email on July 11: "It is the ABC's policy not to reveal the names of anonymous sources. Lateline stands by the integrity of [its story] as both fair and accurate."

Four days later, on July 15, Charley emailed Graham, in part: "In all your political posturing, you appear to have overlooked the fact that the crux of the issue here is the abuse of underage children by a predatory pedophile and a call for help from concerned and frustrated individuals. Are you, too, choosing to skim over this unpleasant reality because it is simply too politically sensitive to handle?"

On July 19 Charley emailed: "To date we have genuinely endeavoured to assist you with your inquiries I stand by Lateline's stories and the integrity of our journalists. To the extent your most recent email implies any irregularity or impropriety in our approach, your implications are rejected."

Finally, next day, Charley ended the exchange. He emailed Graham, in part: "I remain mystified by your apparent determination to discredit a story that cannot seriously be doubted I cannot, therefore, continue to correspond with you over this matter."

Which is much more than Brough, his office, Greg Andrews or Wayne Gibbons, all of whom Graham pestered with numerous emails, would say. All sought to kill the story by ignoring it. All refused to answer the central question: why did the ABC agree to hide the identity of a bureaucrat whose bogus interview got his minister off the hook?

Think about it.

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