Two ways together: the political fallout

BY BRIAN JOHNSTONE

 Originally published in Tracker Magazine, June 2011 edition. 

It provides it with an enduring political weapon against the Labor government it has just deposed, should it choose to use it.
It does so in a policy area once considered hostile territory for a state Coalition government.

It must, however, be seen to do better.

Just as importantly, it must be clearly seen to be doing so.

Premier Barry O’Farrell and new Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Victor Dominello, issued a media statement to coincide with the public release of the Auditor-General’s findings which promised to do so…from the top.

Both had been provided with advance copies of the audit and its findings so the statement would have been carefully crafted.

It carried the predictable and justifiable, headline: Audit Report shows Labor failed Aboriginal Communities.

The report, they said, “reflects a very serious policy failure by the former Labor Government.”

“The Auditor-General’s report chiefly acknowledges the former Labor Government’s failure to be accountable, as well as the fact that TWT ‘…has not delivered the improvement in overall outcomes for Aboriginal people that were intended..’ ”

“My Government is determined for there to be improvement in the lives of Aboriginal communities and therefore we will be taking the Auditor-General’s findings and recommendations extremely seriously, “Mr O’Farrell said.

“The complete lack of accountability and transparency combined with total absence of political leadership at the top of Government raises significant concerns about the former Labor Government’s approach to Aboriginal Affairs,” he added

“Sadly there have been significant human and financial costs as a result of Labor’s policy failure.

“My Government will talk openly and honestly with Aboriginal people about the challenges that we jointly face and how to ensure that the mistakes of the previous government are not repeated. “

Minister Dominello “condemned” Labor for allowing a program to run for almost a decade without effectively monitoring its results.
TWT, he said, had been “politically abandoned.”

“It’s the politicians who are to blame—not Aboriginal communities or those earnest public officials on the ground,” he added.

He reminded us Aboriginal people came to consider Two Ways Together as Two Ways Apart and acknowledged the complexities of closing the gap in Aboriginal disadvantage.

“…It is clear,” he added, “we must build real and effective linkages between State Government and Aboriginal communities, put locally driven solutions for economic and cultural empowerment front and centre and involve independent and non-Government voices.

“In the coming period, the new Government—including Premier O’Farrell, my Ministerial colleagues, the senior management of Aboriginal Affairs and other public sector managers-will frame a new direction for Aboriginal Affairs policy in NSW in concert with Aboriginal communities and stakeholders.

“One thing will be absolutely certain: political leadership and Ministerial accountability will be the cornerstone of our direction. Unlike Labor, we will stand up and welcome full scrutiny for delivering results.”

Time will tell.

The O’Farrell government came to power without a policy on Aboriginal Affairs.
It has a new boy Minister in the portfolio and a swollen backbench with little knowledge of the complexities of Aboriginal Affairs.

The Government’s Aboriginal Affairs agenda is essentially a blank canvas.

However, the Premier’s pledge to talk “openly and honestly,” with Aboriginal people on how to better deliver services and build capacity has been welcomed by NSWALC—which has set out its agenda for the Government in its election policy document, Our Land, Our Rights.

The findings of the audit would come as no surprise “to those who have been working in Aboriginal Affairs over the past eight years,” NSWALC Chairwoman Bev Manton said.

“But its public release should trigger a complete rethink on how the O’Farrell Government will now work with peak Aboriginal organisations and communities to build capacity and improve outcomes in the social, economic, cultural and emotional well being of Aboriginal people in New South Wales,” she added.

“The Auditor General’s Report outlines serious policy failures by the previous Labor Government, as Premier O’Farrell and Aboriginal Affairs
Minister Dominello have already pointed out, and a failure to reach its targets to close the gaps in key outcomes for our people.

“However the main recommendations of the Auditor-General’s report are not supported by its findings, particularly in regard to how the State

Government and its agencies should continue to directly engage with our communities.

“NSWALC looks forward to discussing the report in detail with the O’Farrell government and fellow members of the Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations.”

Despite the promise of self determination, Ms Manton said, Aboriginal representative organisations, such as NSWALC, were never given a true partnership opportunity to affect any outcomes within the Two Ways Together Plan.

“The fact that we were afforded no opportunity to respond to the Auditor General’s report before its public release, despite being interviewed during the audit, is a telling illustration of the continuing disconnect between the ongoing lip service paid to the notion of self determination and the lack of it in practice.”

In addition to Premier O’Farrell and Minister Dominello, advance copies of the report were given to the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Aboriginal Affairs NSW.

Their written responses to the audit findings are contained in the Auditor-General’s public report.

The new Director General of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles told the Auditor General by letter the audit and its findings raised “significant concerns” about the effectiveness of Two Ways Together.

“The NSW Government intends to improve accountability and transparency in Aboriginal Affairs,” he added.

“The Auditor-General’s recommendations to assess the effectiveness of Government programs, services, and agency head performance, against clearly defined indicators are welcomed.

“A strong evidence base would enable each agency to effectively assess which programs should be continued or whether government efforts should be redirected,

And the Department of Premier and Cabinet together with agencies will consider these recommendations more fully.”

The Auditor General’s recommendation that the Government consider appointing an independent adviser or a group of advisors on Aboriginal issues would be “seriously considered.”

“The NSW Government intends to approach Aboriginal Affairs on the basis that Aboriginal people deserve opportunities to shape their own future; make more local decisions; be full participants in the economic prosperity of this State; and feel safe and secure in their communities, neighbourhoods and homes,” he said.

He then gave the same pledge as his Premier.

The Government, he said, plans to talk “openly and honestly,” with Aboriginal people in coming months about the challenges we “jointly face and how we can best create opportunities for Aboriginal people to shape their own lives and make meaningful choices.”

The response from Aboriginal Affairs NSW (AANSW) was lodged with a covering letter from the Acting Director General of Education and Communities, Ms Pam Christie, who is also Acting Director of TAFE NSW.

The response bears no name.

It contains no apology.

The closest it comes to accepting, and shouldering, responsibility can be found in the third paragraph.

It lauds the audit and its findings as “a valuable analysis of the limited successes and substantial shortfalls of Two Ways Together, as well as a suggested approach for a new way forward.”

The bulk of the response smacks of spin and denial when it is not seeking to boost the credentials of AANSW’s Community Partnership Program, which received cool and superficial endorsement from the audit.(see Back Seat)

Minister Dominello took up the findings in State Parliament on May 27 in response to a Dorothy Dixer.

He told Parliament the Auditor-General’s Report showed “incarceration rates have significantly worsened, in that, despite making up only four per cent of adolescents in New South Wales , Aboriginal young people account for half the population in custody.”

Amid constant interjection from the Labor Opposition, he continued:

“Literacy and numeracy rates remain poor.

“In 2008 under the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests in year 9, approximately 20 per cent of Aboriginal young people did not meet the minimum standard in literacy and numeracy, compared with approximately five per cent of non Aboriginal young people.

“Aboriginal unemployment rates have grown.

“In 2008 the unemployment rate for Aboriginal people was four times higher than for all NSW residents, at 21 per cent.

“That paints a tragic picture of the lives of many Aboriginal people in New South Wales…..”

Opposition Leader John Robertson later issued a media statement to complain Minister Dominello had used his first Ministerial answer to a question to launch “an appalling political attack on the former Government’s efforts to reduce Aboriginal disadvantage.”

“In less than five minutes, Victor Dominello has trashed years of bi-partisanship on the issue of Aboriginal Affairs,” he said.

Mr Robertson said Mr Dominello’s address to the Parliament was “offensive, disrespectful, and represents a major shift in the new Government’s approach to issues surrounding Aboriginal disadvantage.”

This was followed up by a question without notice from the Labor Member for Canterbury, Linda Burney, who asked Minister Dominello why, given the Auditor General had recommended the expansion of the Community Partnership Program, had the Minister “denounced” it as a “failed program.”

Would he commit, she asked, to its continuation.

(Ms Burney was Director-General of DAA when TWT was originally conceived and launched)

Amid constant interjection the Minister said Labor believed it “owns this space. It does not.”

He said the Auditor-General’s report was damning and the Liberal Government was determined to make “serious headway into the problems and challenges facing the Aboriginal community.”

Suffice to say the AANSW response, and that of the Labor Opposition, demonstrates why there is a need for a new open and honest approach in Aboriginal Affairs and why the Audit Office, the Government and others, ought to take a closer look at the findings and recommendations.

There has been no public comment from the former Director General of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (AANSW) Ms Jody Broun, who is now co-chair of the National Peoples Congress.

She was Director General of DAA (AANSW) from 2003 until 2010. In her biography for the National Peoples Congress she lists Two Ways Together as one her achievements in that job.

One final observation.

This must have been a particularly difficult audit to tackle.

Those who conducted it had to wade through the constant tinkering under the bonnet, the aimless shifting targets and direction, drifting timelines, the absence of evaluation…..and the all too frequent oil changes.

There was one constant.

Aboriginal people and their peak representative bodies were, in real terms, backseat passengers.

Heroes and villains of budgets past

Originally published in Tracker Magazine, May 2011 edition. 

 

When you’re in Opposition, sometimes you have to say silly things to get a headline. Hence, in 2003 the Howard government introduced a tax cut worth about $4 a week to average families. The then Federal Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, thought he could smell some political blood in the water, so he called a news conference, writes CHRIS GRAHAM. 

“$4. I’ve got it here, let me get it out,” he told journalists, as he extracted some gold coins from his pocket.

“….The highest taxing Government in Australia’s history has just delivered the lowest tax cut in Australia’s history,” Crean declared.

Technically, of course, he was right. The Howard government was the highest taxing government in history at the time. But prior to that, the highest taxing government of all time was the Keating government.

And before that it was the Hawke government. And Fraser before that. And Whitlam. And McMahon, and so on.

Today, the mantle is held by the Gillard government, in which Crean is Minister for Regional Development.

There is a simple explanation. Every new government will be the highest taxing in history because economies grow, so tax revenue naturally increases. Crean’s claims were nonsensical but, politically, not surprising. The Coalition spins the same line when they’re in opposition.

Which brings us to Aboriginal affairs budgets, and a comparable half-truth that governments like to advance every year – the annual claim of ‘record Indigenous affairs expenditure’ which inevitably finds its way into ministerial media releases.

The claim is, more often than not, false.

A research paper out of the Parliamentary Library in Canberra has shed new light on the issue. Its authors, Dr John Gardiner-Garden, and Joanne Simon-Davies, have analysed Indigenous specific expenditure by Commonwealth governments across a 40-year period. The background note, Commonwealth Indigenous specific expenditure 1968–2010, was completed late last year. Its findings are startling.

While cash expenditure on Aboriginal affairs has trended upwards, the percentage of available government revenue directed towards Aboriginal programs has steadily declined over the past decade.

In other words, more cash has gone into black affairs, but that’s because there’s more cash available. But when it comes to dividing up what’s there, Aboriginal people are increasingly getting a smaller share.

Dr Gardiner-Garden and Ms Simon-Davies don’t weigh into the politics of budgets – they simply collate the raw data and provide some pointed analysis. Still, it makes for some enlightening reading.

Black budgets – referred to formally as ‘Indigenous specific expenditure’ – began in Australia shortly after the 1967 referendum, which empowered the federal government to not only make laws concerning Aboriginal people, but also to allocate money specifically to alleviate Aboriginal disadvantage.

“Identifiable Commonwealth expenditure in the area of Indigenous affairs began with the establishment of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs soon after the landmark referendum in 1967,” the authors note. “The expenditure was relatively low in the first few years but increased significantly with the creation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs soon after the Whitlam Government came to office in December 1972.”

Funding continued to grow through the 1980s.

Of all the Prime Ministers since the 1967 referendum, the only one to have never delivered a cut in funding to black spending in percentage terms has been William McMahon (although as treasurer he delivered a cut in 1969).

In his 1972 budget – announced just months before he was swept from office by Gough Whitlam – McMahon oversaw a doubling of the Aboriginal affairs allocation from $29 million to $58.4 million. By today’s standards, it may seem modest (the Indigenous affairs budget was more than $3 billion in 2009), but the total federal budget in 1972 was only just over $9 billion. Today it stands at around $350 billion.

In percentage terms, McMahon and his treasurer, Billy Snedden, delivered 0.64 percent of the total government budget to Aboriginal people.

Enter Whitlam, in December 1972.

The following year the first Labor government in decades delivered a similarly strong funding boost, with an increase of one quarter of a percent. It remains the second highest percentage jump in history, behind McMahon. In just three years – from 1971 to 73 – the black budget had more than tripled.

Whitlam delivered another strong increase in 1974. In the process, he reached an important milestone; the Aboriginal affairs budget had cracked the one percent mark of the total federal government spend. But in his final years as Prime Minister (1975) Whitlam, with Bill Hayden as Treasurer, delivered a 0.1 percent cut, at the time the largest in almost a decade of Aboriginal affairs funding. A percentage cut that size might not sound much, but when you’re talking in tens of millions of dollars, it is substantial.

In today’s terms, he shaved over $20 million off a budget that only delivered $186 million. Whitlam’s betrayal came despite the fact that the total Commonwealth budget for 1975 had increased by more than 25 percent that year. While Australia was entering a boom, Whitlam was cutting funding to the nation’s most disadvantaged.

Even worse, after delivering a massive cut, a few weeks later Whitlam flew to northern Australia and famously poured a handful of sand through the hands of Vincent Lingiari amid grand promises of land rights. Whitlam has to some extent dined out on that symbolic act ever since.

But admittedly, he was more generous than his successor. Upon entering office in 1975, Malcolm Fraser delivered three successive cuts to the black budget, including a record 0.23 percent cut in his first year as Prime Minister.

It remains the largest single cut in the 40-plus year history of black budgets, and in today’s terms represents a loss of more than $51 million.

Fraser delivered very modest increases for the next three years, and then a cut in his final year as Prime Minister.

John Howard was Fraser’s treasurer in the latter half of his term, giving Howard the dubious distinction of a greater percentage of cuts than boosts to black budgets.

By the time Fraser left office in 1983, the black budget was still one-third of a percent lower than when he entered seven years earlier.

Bob Hawke – and his treasurer Paul Keating – took almost all of the next decade to return it to the levels reached by Whitlam. Hawke delivered increases to the Aboriginal affairs budget throughout most of his time as PM, although they were very small. But the nett effect of his malaise – and Fraser’s cuts – was that growth in Aboriginal affairs spending stalled under the Liberals, and then under Labor, for almost a generation.

At the same time, Australia marked 200 years since colonisation, and Aboriginal people continued to die of third world diseases in a first world nation.

Keating successfully challenged Hawke for the leadership in December 1991, and in his first year as Prime Minister delivered a healthy 0.09 percent boost to the black budget, taking it to 1.29 percent of the total government spend. At the time, it was the highest percentage in history.

The boost coincided not only with the Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, but with the historic Redfern speech (December 1992), an oration regarded to this day as one of the most memorable ever delivered by an Australian Prime Minister. And then, immediately after winning international praise, Keating presided over one of the biggest cuts to the black budget on record.

With John Dawkins as his treasurer, Keating slashed black spending by 0.13 percent, the fourth largest cut in history. It represented a reduction in real terms of more than $150 million.

In his final budget (1995), Keating restored Aboriginal affairs spending to record levels (to 1.31 percent), but it didn’t last long. The first Liberal budget with John Howard as Prime Minister caused widespread angst in Aboriginal affairs. Having campaigned on a promise to end the ‘Aboriginal industry’, a phrase popularised by Pauline Hanson, black leaders expected the worst.

Howard and Costello didn’t disappoint, delivering a cut in their first budget of 0.07 percent. But what followed surprised many. In 1997, Howard and Costello delivered a boost of 0.14 percent, one of the highest on record. Ironically, a few weeks later, Howard appeared as a guest speaker at the 1997 Reconciliation Convention in Melbourne. He infamously lost it on stage, thumping the lectern and yelling at an Aboriginal crowd which stood and turned its back on him.

The following year, Howard delivered a cut, but he followed that in 1999 with another boost, taking the Aboriginal affairs budget to 1.43 percent of available government revenue.

That figure remains the high watermark today. It’s around 50 percent higher than anything Whitlam ever delivered, and almost three times greater than Fraser.

Unfortunately, Howard and Costello remained in office for another eight years, and they delivered percentage cuts to the black budget in six of them. What is so offensive about the Howard-Costello years is that the cuts came at a time when the country was enjoying unprecedented prosperity.

In the final few years of their leadership, Howard and Costello delivered almost $100 billion in budget surpluses – it was a period when Australia could most afford to not only boost the Aboriginal affairs budget, but to make up ground after decades of sanctioned government neglect.

Instead, Howard and Costello reduced the black budget as a percentage of government expenditure to levels not seen since Bob Hawke’s days, taking black funding back almost two decades by the time they left office. However, they look like humanitarians compared to the next lot.

Kevin Rudd was swept to power in 2007. The Gardiner-Garden/Simon-Davies research paper only looks at his first two budgets – 2008 and 2009 (final 2010-11 expenditure weren’t known at the time of press, althoughTracker will provide an analysis of the 2011-12 budget in the June edition). But Rudd’s Labor has already secured itself a place in the history books, and for all the wrong reasons.

Rudd and his treasurer Wayne Swan have not only presided over cuts in percentage terms, but they’ve delivered cuts in actual cash terms as well. And like Keating and Whitlam before him, Rudd used Aboriginal people to win global renown, only to immediately slash black spending.

Two months after delivering the National Apology to members of the Stolen Generations, Rudd’s first budget as Prime Minister delivered the second largest in the history of Aboriginal affairs. In dollar terms, he shaved off more than half a billion dollars.

The following year, Rudd and Swan delivered another cut, giving them the largest combined cut over two years in history. The cut was so dramatic, in fact, that Rudd and Swan have managed to reduce black funding to less than one percent of the total federal budget for the first time in more than two decades.

The 2009 budget actually delivered less in percentage than the 1974 budget three decades earlier.

Liberal governments may stand condemned for squandering massive surpluses while ignoring historical neglect. But so far, they’ve done a heck of a lot better than their successors. Watch this space for 2010 figures.

 

* Chris Graham is the Managing Editor of Tracker Magazine. His last feature for Tracker was called Going National, about the push for land rights around Australia.

ALONE AND COLD: The death of Frank Paul

Originally published in Tracker Magazine, April 2011 edition. 

 

CANADA, like Australia is a big country. And like Australia, there were people living here long before the colonisers. Also, like Australia, these people have not fared well since.

Across our 10 Provinces and two Arctic Territories, there are approximately 1.2 million people who identify themselves as being Inuit, Metis or North American Indian, also referred to as First Nations.

The Inuit are predominantly in Nunavut, the Metis and First Nations reside across the breadth of the country and throughout the Northwest Territories and into the Arctic.

Of this 1.2 million people, approximately 750,000 identify themselves as First Nations.

Looking back over the years and through the generations, the lives of all Aboriginal people in Canada, and most certainly First Nations, have been characterised by systemic racism, injustice and suffering.

Astonishingly, they exist in largely third world conditions even today. By the standards of any civilized nation, let alone as prosperous a country as Canada, First Nations, by and large, live in poverty and on the margins of Canadian society.

Infant mortality, imprisonment, HIV rates, life expectancy, alcoholism, drug addiction, child suicides – by any measure the living conditions of the First Nations people of Canada are a national disgrace.

A disgrace that goes largely ignored; without any sign of a national will that recognises the enormity of the problem and is prepared to devote the necessary effort and resources to bring it to an end.

This story is one part of this disgraceful history, of a First Nations man who was let down by a system that tragically failed in its duty of care.

 

 

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FRANK PAUL

Frank Joseph Paul was a North American Indian of the Mi’kmaq (pronounced Migmaw) First Nation.

He was born on the Elsipogtog Reserve, close to the Atlantic Ocean in the Province of New Brunswick, in the summer of 1951.

On a winter evening 47 years later, in 1998, he would be arrested by Vancouver police for being in a “state of intoxication in a public place”.

On this night, he was refused entry to the jail by the jail sergeant, who then ordered a young probationary police officer driving the police van to drop him on the streets of Vancouver, where he was known to frequent.

It was, like most winter nights in Vancouver, a few degrees above zero and raining intermittently.  Frank Paul was dragged from the jail, hoisted into the police wagon and left in an alley open to the weather.

He was grossly intoxicated. He could not stand, he could barely mumble, he was soaking wet and as the autopsy report would later indicate, he was suffering from the onset of hypothermia. He was clearly unable to care for himself.

But at approximately 2 o’clock that morning, a nearby resident who was out looking for his cat called to report a man lying in the alley. The same officers who had arrested him earlier that evening arrived at the scene to find Frank Paul dead.

At 6:30am the Coroner arrived on the scene, and after making observations, sent his body for autopsy.

The autopsy identified two areas of significant brain injury related to seizure, and a blood alcohol level of 290 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood.

A reading of 290 milligrams is approximately four times the legal limit for the operation of a motor vehicle, and it was noted the reading would have been significantly higher in the hours prior to his death (in Australia, it’s almost six times the driving legal limit). Despite the cause of death, and the circumstances surrounding his death, the Chief Coroner indicated to the attending coroner that an inquest was not warranted.

Such an inquest, in the form of a public hearing before a jury, is mandatory if a death takes place in police custody (a questionable rotational, given that Frank Paul was not transferred to anyone else’s custody and was unable to care for himself at the time). But technically, Mr Paul was deemed not in custody at the time of his death.

The attending Coroner had reviewed the documentation on file and in the autopsy report, as well as still photos from the jail video showing Mr Paul being dragged out of jail.

But in her report, she categorised the death as an “accident” rather than a homicide. It was also the responsibility of the Coroner’s Office to advise Mr Paul’s next of kin.

They apparently forgot to do so.

In fact, the families were initially told by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that he had died as a result of a “hit and run”.

Frank Paul, by this time of his life, was seriously ill. He suffered from significant brain damage and it was questionable whether he was able to care for himself even in his rare moments of sobriety. He was, nevertheless, a human being, in desperate condition and in need of care. But there was no public inquest and barely any media coverage.

And it would be another 13 years before a comprehensive public inquiry would be held into the tragic circumstances of his death.

 

THE POLICE INVESTIGATION

By policy, all police related deaths are immediately assigned to the Major Crime Section and, in this case, it was undertaken in a fashion that was characteristic of such investigations.

Neither the wagon driver nor the jail sergeant was ever interviewed.  Rather, keeping with Vancouver City Police Department policy, written ‘duty reports’ were requested of each officer after they had an opportunity to obtain legal advice.

There was no forensic examination.

Indeed, the forensic engagement at the Frank Paul death scene was described by another senior officer as being “… more a matter of recording the circumstances of a death by hypothermia than a criminal investigation”.

Several civilian witnesses were not interviewed.

In the written summary of the investigation, referred to as the Report to Crown Counsel, there was a summary of the evidence which had been collected but there was no analysis of any inconsistencies, nor comment on the accuracy or reliability of any of the evidence.

No criminal offences were identified and no effort was made to relate evidence to any offence. There was no recommendation for any criminal charge, or apparent consideration of that possibility.

This ‘report’ was then sent to the Chief Constable’s office, where it would be used to determine whether any further discipline was warranted. It was sent on to the Coroner’s office where it would be relied upon to determine whether an inquest should be held. And it was sent to the Office of Crown Counsel in order to determine whether any criminal charges could be laid.

It also eventually went to the office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, which had only a few years earlier been legislated into existence as civilian oversight of municipal police conduct.

A subsequent  Police Complaints Commissioner who reviewed the file several years later was scathing of the police investigation in his interim report, stating that it was “methodically flawed”.

“In particular the unwritten, unpublished, and generally unknown policy of preparing so-called ‘neutral’ reports into police-related shootings provided an unaccountable environment for the conduct of superficial investigations and inadequate Reports to Crown Counsel, and hence had the effect of ensuring that, despite police involvement in the death and assignment of responsibility to the Homicide Squad, facts were overlooked, suspicions unaddressed, and clarifying evidence left untouched,” the Commissioner wrote.

And in respect to the conduct of the police officers, he found the following:

“The various explanations offered by Sgt Russell Sanderson (jail sergeant), responsible for the Jail on the evening of December 5, 1998, must be rejected in their entirety.

“From any perspective Frank Paul was in need of care that evening and if the superficial care of a sobering cell (commonly referred to as the ‘drunk tank’) was to be kept from him, this experienced officer could not properly conclude that he could be safely discharged to the winter streets of Vancouver.

“I emphasise that the decision to reject Frank Paul from admission to the jail, despite being sent there by two experienced and capable patrolmen to sober up, was a decision made in a moment and without any responsible level of attention or care.”

The Commissioner referred to here is Commissioner Davies, who prepared his interim report in which these comments were made. His comments therefore had no bearing on the various original investigations.

The police department began their internal investigation into the matter in 1999 (this was the internal disciplinary investigation begun after the criminal investigation was complete. The point is that the internal ‘disciplinary investigation’ relied wholly on the flawed police criminal investigation).

This investigation did not make any further requests for reports or interviews with either the jail sergeant or wagon driver. The senior sergeant in charge of the investigation had initially considered that informal “management advice”, basically an informal caution, be given to the two officers, but decided it was inappropriate.

Instead, he recommended that the jail sergeant receive a two day suspension without pay for failing to have Mr Paul medically assessed or to consider some other form of shelter such as a detox centre. He further recommended that the wagon driver receive a one-day suspension without pay.

The Chief Constable agreed.

To date, these suspensions have been the only disciplinary measures doled out on anyone in relation to the death of Frank Paul.

 

 

THE ROLE OF THE PROSECUTORS

Before charges can be approved against a police officer in British Columbia, the file must be reviewed by two senior prosecutors. The police recommend the charges and the prosecutors either approve or disapprove the charges going forward.

The legal test of whether charges should proceed in British Columbia is whether there is, “a strong, solid case to put before the court’ or put another way, ‘a substantial likelihood of conviction”.

It is more than “reasonable and probable grounds” but far less than “proof beyond any reasonable doubt”.

In this case, the first prosecutor in the Criminal Justice Branch recognised many of the deficiencies and considered it a tentative report, but he also felt that ‘the die was cast’ and that on the evidence set out in the obviously deficient criminal investigation report, there could be no successful prosecution.

His superior simply signed off on this recommendation.

The evidence that he did have, however, consisted of the testimony of the two police officers who arrested Frank Paul just before 8pm, reeking of rice wine, unable to stand and barely able to speak and clearly unable to care for himself.

He had the photographs of the deceased being dragged into and out of the jail, leaving a long wet trail behind him.

He knew of the autopsy report, which had already established a blood alcohol level quite likely in the range of 320 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood, well over the legal driving limit.

He also knew that there was a nurse on duty at the jail that night.

Against this body of evidence, he felt that the officers were entitled to consider Frank Paul’s life on the street, and that he would ordinarily find himself a place safe on the street or in some sanctuary.

Despite all this, he concluded that he did not have a strong case to put before the court.

The file was reviewed again by another prosecutor after it came back to the Office of Crown Counsel in 2001.

There was a further request from the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner that charges against the officers be re-considered.

This prosecutor’s few notes on file were headed “R v. Paul”. ‘R’ is an abbreviation for ‘Regina’, meaning that Frank Paul was (consciously or otherwise) being thought of as having committed a criminal offence.

After thinking about it for seven months he decided that no charges should be laid against either officer. This delay would later be relied upon by the Police Complaint Commissioner for declining to order a public hearing.

 

 

FIRST Nations organisations in British Columbia and across Canada, as well as several people from within the office of the Police Complaints Commission, repeatedly pressed for a public inquiry for years without success.

With the eventual installation of a new Police Complaints Commissioner, the file was re-activated and the new commissioner, upon doing a thorough review of the file, prepared a report for the Attorney General with a recommendation that an inquiry be held.

The head of the Criminal Justice Branch, on his own initiative, requested the file for a further review undertaken by another senior Crown counsel prosecutor.

This opinion, like the others before it, concluded that there was not a substantial likelihood of conviction. The opinion however, was flawed in that it considered only the test for criminal negligence as being ‘wanton and reckless disregard’ and concluded that the Crown did not meet that test.

His opinion did not consider the lower more easily reached threshold of a ‘marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable person’.

This is all that is required in Canadian law to establish the offence of failing to provide the necessaries of life. And, if that offence is established and there is a loss of life; that is manslaughter. The head of the Criminal Justice Branch received and agreed with this opinion but, “out of an abundance of caution”, referred the file to yet another prosecutor.

This person had previously reviewed the file and had recently retired from the Criminal Justice Branch, and was receiving work on a private basis. He was the most senior lawyer to review the file. It was not felt that it would be an advantage to refer the matter to a senior criminal practitioner outside the Criminal Justice Branch.

This final review concluded that there was not a substantial likelihood of conviction against either officer, and in respect to the jail sergeant it was felt that he would be entitled to presume that Frank Paul would be returned to an address and that he would have a place to stay where he would be cared for by his buddies and associates.

There was, however, no evidence anywhere in the file to suggest that Mr Paul either had a home or anyone to care for him. He was known to be homeless and to live on the streets of Vancouver. His innumerable booking sheets at the drunk tank recorded no known address.

He also, quite strangely, identified the following point as an impediment to a successful prosecution: “Crown is unable to prove that Frank Paul would not have died on the vegetable stand had he not been arrested by the officers”. What bearing that fact had on the prosecution of either of these two officers remains a mystery other than to the most cynical.

In June 2004, the Criminal Justice Branch released, what it thought, was the final word on the matter.

It prepared a media statement which explained that there had been five thorough reviews of the file (without mention of the known deficiencies in the investigation) and assured the public that there was insufficient evidence upon which charges could be pursued against either officer.

The clear implications of this release were that there were no failings in the police investigation, that the prosecutorial reviews had been thorough and exhaustive and that there was an insufficient basis to conclude that charges were appropriate. That is to say, that the police had committed no offences. But this was not the end.

First Nations leaders across Canada repeatedly called for a public inquiry and the leaders of the First Nations Leadership Council of British Columbia continued to press the Government for action.

Frank Paul’s family instructed a lawyer to join the demand for a public hearing. Finally, in 2007, the Solicitor General announced a public inquiry into the Frank Paul case.

The next month he announced that William H. Davies, QC, a retired Supreme Court judge, would head the inquiry.

On August 10 of that year the Attorney General published the inquiry’s purpose and terms of reference. Two years later, on February 12, 2009, Commissioner Davies published his interim report: Alone and Cold.

It was complete in every aspect, and delivered a scathing indictment on the circumstances that lead to Mr Paul’s death, but it didn’t deal with the Criminal Justice Branch – whose only role was to decide whether or not charges should be laid.

The branch had breathtakingly announced on the first day of the inquiry that the terms of reference should not be interpreted to require Crown Counsel to either disclose documents touching on the issue, or to attend and be examined under oath. They argued that they were constitutionally protected to not disclose their reasoning behind decisions.

It came despite the terms of reference clearly empowering the Commissioner to look into the response of the Criminal Justice Branch and the decisions of the various prosecutors not to charge anyone in relation to Mr Paul’s death.

It was gravely disappointing to members of the Paul family and their supporters, particularly due to the reversal of the Attorney General on the matter, who had already negotiated and signed off on the Terms of Reference.

Commissioner Davies rejected the Crime Justice Branch’s application, spurring the body to take the matter on appeal to the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

The Supreme Court rejected their reasoning, and so did the British Columbia Court of Appeal, who similarly agreed with these three rejections. It was then taken to the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in the country and the last avenue of appeal.

The Supreme Court in April declined to hear the appeal and as a result the Commissioner reconvened and began hearing from the prosecutors. Closing arguments were heard in mid-December and the final report is expected next month, some 13 years after the death of Frank Paul.

 

 

COMMISSIONER Davies was a thoughtful choice as Commissioner, and brought to his task a reputation for fairness and wisdom built over of 50 years as a lawyer and Supreme Court Judge.

By all accounts he has the confidence of all of the participants in the Inquiry – no small accomplishment.

And while no participant will say they see everything in exactly the same way as does the Commissioner, all will say that he did the best job that could be done to determine the truth about the issues he was to consider. And all will acknowledge that the recommendations he has made will greatly benefit the least fortunate of Vancouver’s east side, and are a fitting and positive legacy for Frank Paul.

The welcome reception he gave Peggy Clement, Frank Paul’s cousin, did as much as could be done to bridge the gap between a courthouse in Vancouver and a small reserve in New Brunswick 5,000 miles away. But as the Frank Paul Inquiry comes to a close, another Inquiry begins.

It is again focused on the downtown east side of Vancouver, only this time surrounding the deaths of numerous women in the sex trade – most of whom were First Nations. Serial killer Robert Pickton has been convicted of two of the deaths, and will never be released from prison; the remaining 26 charges will not be pursued. He is suspected of having killed many more young women, and  has smirked that the number could be closer to 100.

The inquiry is being headed by Commissioner Wally Opal, who has called for an expanded mandate to look at why marginalised women, like First Nations, were targetted.

One of the questions that sparked the Inquiry is how could so many First Nations women go missing without triggering a massive and sustained investigation into their disappearances and deaths?

Also at issue is whether the fact that so many of these women were prostitutes and of First Nations heritage had a bearing on the inattention their disappearances were given by the Vancouver Police Force and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Done well, as I am sure it will be, this Inquiry will get to the truth as to what happened, and it will likely make recommendations that will be helpful.

However one can’t help but think we’ll be back before long with some other similar Inquiry relating to some other aspect of the tragic lives and deaths of First Nations people.

While these inquiries are certainly necessary to support confidence in the administration of justice, it appears that it is not the front line individuals and agencies alone that warrant closer examination but, more importantly, it is the governments of Canada, both provincial and federal who should ask why, generation after generation, the national travesty of First Nations in Canada goes only obliquely addressed.

What is really needed is a national public inquiry into the status of First Nations within Canada, and, building on what would be learned, a joint federal and provincial commitment to join with First Nations in a fresh determination to dismantle the barriers that separate us.

 

* Steven Kelliher is a Canadian lawyer, representing the family of Frank Paul. He asked that his writing fee for this article be donated to an Australian charity associated with Aboriginal people. Tracker has donated $550 to the Death in Custody Watch Committee WA on Mr Kelliher’s behalf.

GOING NATIONAL: Land Rights and Native Title

Originally published in Tracker Magazine, April 2011 edition. 

 

TRACKER, April 2011: There is still much confusion in public debate about the differences between the native title regimes and claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in NSW and other State-based land rights regimes. This has been the subject of considerable discussion in recent years. Some of the best material on the subject was contained in a Background Paper issued by the then Department of Aboriginal Affairs during the 1990’s. This is an edited text of that material.

 

How They Differ

There are major differences between the Aboriginal Land rights Act and native title legislation.

Native Title is a pre-existing enforceable right.

The ability to successfully claim native title depends on being able to establish continuing rights derived from traditional ownership or custodianship. Claimants must establish that their connection to an area of land was, and continues to be, recognised under traditional law and custom.

They must also establish that those traditional rights have not been extinguished by a government granting inconsistent rights to someone else.

In contrast, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act enables land to be returned to Aboriginal people as a matter of redress, or compensation, for past dispossession and loss of traditional rights.

In New South Wales the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people has been more significant, in some respects, than in other parts of the country.

Through various government policies, many people no longer live on their traditional lands and some have difficulty in now identifying precisely where their traditional lands once lay, and the nature of the laws and customs which applied to custodianship of their lands.

It was for these reasons , the 1980 Keane Report into Aboriginal Land Rights in NSW recommended that Aboriginal people be entitled to claim land on a range of grounds, including needs and long association, as alternatives to traditional rights.

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act went further in recognising the disadvantage experienced by many NSW Aboriginal people in establishing traditional rights over specific land areas.

The legislation provides that vacant crown land may be claimed by the Local Aboriginal Land Council of the area, without any requirements to define a specific need or association with that piece of crown land.

Similarly, membership of LALC’s is primarily based on residence rather than traditional association with an area, and LALC activities focus on the local residential Aboriginal community.

In many cases, members of the local community are also the traditional owners of the area, but in contrast to native title, rights under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act do not depend upon traditional connection to the land.

 

Reconciling the two regimes

Within some local Aboriginal communities, tension has arisen between people asserting rights under the native title regime and those asserting rights under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

The immediate causes of conflict include overlapping land claims under the two regimes, and disputes over who is entitled to assert native title in a particular area.

LALC members and native title claimants may also have differing views regarding use of land.

To take these differences to their most extreme, priorities for land use under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act are perceived to be economic development and social benefits such as housing, whereas native title is seen as primarily concerned with traditional practices and cultural heritage.

These, however, are simplified generalisations.

While the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and native title legislation are of different character and origin, the aspirations of Land Council members and native title claimants are not necessarily as polarised as community conflict might suggest.

For instance, LALCs have always been involved in heritage protection and other cultural projects. And many native title claimants include economic and social development among their goals: for example, aiming to establish profitable enterprises on their traditional lands, or negotiating employment and shares in industrial projects occurring on their lands.

Reconciling the Aboriginal Land rights Act and native title regimes should not always have to amount to compromise or waiver of rights, by either party.

Potentially, the differences between the two schemes, and the very existence of options, may operate to the advantage of Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

In some situations, it may be more profitable to pursue a claim under the Native Title Act. than under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

This may be the case where native title rights reach a broader geographical area than the vacant crown land available under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

Conversely, in circumstances where a native title claim may have a limited outcome (or no outcome) due to the extinguishment of traditional rights, a claim under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act might be appropriate.

Having recourse to both regimes, over various areas of land, may provide maximum gain for Aboriginal communities.

The strength of the Native Title Act in upholding cultural heritage and customary rights, for instance, and its ‘right to negotiate’ provisions, might be strategically employed in conjunction with the economic development opportunities and freehold title gained under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

There have already been instances of successful mediation, negotiation and joint planning between LALCs and native title holders.

GOING NATIONAL: Land Rights Now

Originally published in Tracker Magazine, April 2011 edition. 


Original
TRACKER, APRIL 2011: At the federal level, our two major parties want to talk to Aboriginal people about reform of – and recognition in – the Australian Constitution. But around the nation, Aboriginal people overwhelmingly want to talk about their rights. In this inaugural edition of Tracker, we speak to three prominent Aboriginal leaders – from South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania – about land rights and the future of economic development for their communities. This feature is intended to be the start of an ongoing discussion – and debate – about land rights in Australia within Tracker, including a discussion about how native title fits into the picture. BRIAN JOHNSTONE, CHRIS GRAHAM and AMY McQUIRE report. 

 

In NSW, land rights has delivered real benefits to Aboriginal people. Unarguably, more than any other state or Territory in fact.

Today, the NSW land rights network is worth more than $2.6 billion. That’s despite the fact less than 0.1 percent of the NSW landmass has been returned to Aboriginal people. By comparison, in South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland, land rights have delivered negligible returns to Aboriginal communities.

Tony McAvoy is a Murri lawyer based in NSW. He specialises in land rights and native title issues. Mr McAvoy told a recent forum on land rights, organised by Stephen Wright, the Registrar of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act, that he occasionally got annoyed by the NSW land rights system. But not for the reasons you might think.

“I apologise if I sound a little frustrated, but it’s because I believe if we had in Queensland what you have in NSW, things would be so much better for us up there,” he said.

Mr McAvoy, speaking after the forum, told Tracker the two states were poles apart.

“There is no comparison, between the Queensland and NSW legislation,” Mr McAvoy said. “In Queensland there is an act called the Aboriginal Land Act which provides for community held free hold, but it’s in trust and only can be dealt with by a system of approval of the minister.

“There is no real claims process in Queensland.

“What happens is the Department – the equivalent of the lands department (in NSW) – determines whether there is transferable land.

“But there has been very little land that’s been handed over to Aboriginal people in Queensland as freehold, particularly in comparison to the success in the land rights process under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in NSW.”

Mr McAvoy said he supported a push for a national land rights model based in part on the NSW system, but there were caveats.

“Certainly there are many aspects of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act which could be adopted at a national level with enabling legislation in the states,” he said.

“The preamble to the NSW Land Rights Act provides a reasonable start, although I would make some changes to make it clear that the notion that there was ever sufficient land set aside for Aborigines is incorrect.

“Aboriginal people have been progressively dispossessed and that needs to be stated clearly.

“The NSW Preamble is useful, but I think the land claims process itself is something that could be adopted in the other states.”

However, Mr McAvoy said the NSW model would need to confront the issue of native title, and how the two regimes might work better together.

“Certainly the shortcomings of the native title process are numerous,” Mr McAvoy said.

“I think people are very disappointed with the Native Title Act, and in any push for the development of a national land rights legislation, or some replication of the NSW system in other states, the first response from the Commonwealth or the state will be that we already have the Native Title Act.

“One needs to get over that hurdle, and make the case for the delivery up of freehold, as a mechanism for compensation and as a response to the systematic dispossession.

“I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit in terms of policy development and legislative reform. I think it’s also necessary to seek to expand or replicate the NSW system of access to hunting and fishing rights.

“Other states don’t have that, and it should be expanded to take conflict and heat out of what ought to be fairly easy, recognisable rights…

“Those matters could be dealt with relatively easily by the adoption of the legislation similar to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of NSW.

“Certainly there is an extraordinary amount of money being spent in native title, trying to obtain recognition of native title rights.”

In addition, Mr McAvoy would not support a national model which allows land council membership on the basis of location.

“The one point of difference that stands out for me is a national model framed on the NSW model including rights of membership of land councils on the basis of where you live.

“That would be unacceptable to me. It would have to be Traditional Owner based and there are historical reasons for that.

“In Queensland, people went straight from the unified street struggles of the 70s and 80s, and straight into post-Mabo area where it was nation-based. In NSW, they went from a unified street struggle of the 70s to the system of localised land councils of the 1980s.

“In any event, the NSW land council system needs to do a lot of focused policy work to figure out how the land rights system and the native title or traditional owner system can work together.

“I understand some people in the land council system are anti-native title and don’t see it as a way of [complementing] the existing land rights system, but it seems to me that this is a head in the sand approach.

“The much harder path is the real work that needs to be done about how they work together, and not how one is trying to knock the other off.”

Despite the work ahead, Mr McAvoy said there was good reason to be hopeful that tensions between native title and land rights could be resolved.

“There was a lot of conflict in the past over who the proper Traditional Owners are. From my work in native title in Queensland, most of those issues are now resolved.

“The work has all been done so that while there will be individual cases of people who say they should be one group or the other, and who are dissatisfied because they are not accepted, and there will always be those cases, the memberships of groups are pretty well settled now in Queensland and it is well on its way in NSW.

“But there is no avoiding this issue. I would encourage the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to do the work and try and find a means of accommodating both systems.

 

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

During his day job, Klynton Wanganeen is the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement within the Premier’s Department. However, he spoke to Tracker in his capacity as a long-standing leader in his community (Mr Wanganeen is a former ATSIC Commissioner for South Australia).

He is passionate about land rights, and has a very strong view that the NSW model would transpose beautifully to South Australia.

“From what I can see, right around the country, [NSW] is far and away the best. It’s the only model where Aboriginal communities have control of the policies, the practices and the land, and the dollars that go with it.

“There’s no ownership around the rest of the country, most of it is tied up in trust funds that are run by the likes of governments and industries, and the community have trouble accessing what is rightfully theirs. I’m quite positive that if we had the type of structure and support and start up finances of what the NSW model has, then I would say by 2020 we’d largely stamp out poverty in Aboriginal communities,” Mr Wanganeen said.

“I believe that it could be a reality, if we had anywhere near what you guys have we’d be able to do wonders with it for our people.”

Mr Wanganeen said the capacity for NSW Aboriginal people to make land claims was one great strength of the system.

“I would support a NSW type approach to land rights nationally, because it does a number of things.

“It has the capacity for Aboriginal people to make an application for land claims under the NSW act. You have the capacity to put in land claims when there’s a change of use. We don’t have that capacity whatsoever in South Australia.

“We can’t claim land at all, that capacity was taken out of the act.

On native title, Mr Wanganeen echoed the views of Mr McAvoy, and noted that while the regime had floundered, it was up to Aboriginal people to find a way to settle the battles.

“Native title hasn’t delivered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In South Australia it has provided some benefit, but not a hell of a lot. It was full of promise but it has never actually eventuated to deliver much benefit to people at the local level.

“Let’s look at the facts. Even though you have native title as an overarching act, there’s not actually anything around the country that looks at land rights except in New South Wales.

“Even in the Northern Territory, the land council system provides a collective benefit to a majority of the people, but where is it impacting on the people on the ground?”

On the disputes that crop up between the two regimes, Mr Wanganeen believes Aboriginal people are best equipped to find a way through.

“I don’t think that it would be a problem in the long run. But the Aboriginal community has to be able to come to terms with the issue.”

 

 

TASMANIA

The land rights act in Tasmania hasn’t served the Aboriginal community any better than in SA. Rodney Dillon is a former ATSIC Commissioner for Tasmania, now working with Amnesty International. He told Tracker magazine that Tasmanian Aborigines get land back only if, and when, the government feels like it.

There’s no proper process for land to be claimed, and what is returned is often inadequate.

“The land handed back has been very small. I think this (state) government is at a standstill.

“I don’t see in any of the platforms of the three parties, when they go to the election, about giving back land to Aboriginal groups and that is a major concern.

“There’s not even any recognition. But that’s their responsibility, to hand back land to our people.

Mr Dillon said the Greens – who share a minority government with Labor in Tasmania – were a part of that failure. He added that Aboriginal groups had been kept busy protecting their sacred sites and objects, and had lost focus on land rights as a result.

“We don’t have much time to think about land when they are attacking our cultural heritage,” he said. “I think that’s been one of the reasons why land hasn’t been the  highest agenda for a lot of our people – the government has been flat out destroying our heritage.”

Mr Dillon said he welcomed a national debate on land rights, but said it should include discussions about rights over water.

“Those two have got to travel together. We have to have the right to freshwater, we have to have the right to saltwater, we have to have the right to artesian waters.

“All those areas need to be put around land rights. It hasn’t been done anywhere. Blue Mud Bay (in the Northern Territory) was the one time, but there is very little native title over water rights.

Mr Dillon says he would support a model based around NSW land rights.

“The model on how the NSW Aboriginal Land council was set up, that gives a form of self-determination.

“It would be good if we had that model in Victoria, in Queensland and Tasmania and to South Australia and Western Australia.”

Mr Dillon noted that the power of organisations like NSWALC to speak for themselves can’t be overstated, and that was another reason he supported a NSW-style model.

“Where there is self-determination, you can send people overseas to talk to international conventions about what Australia’s not doing,” he said.

“You don’t rely on state government money to do that, you can challenge them. That’s the part of the self-determination that can make a difference.”

 

 

So how realistic is a national land rights push? Tony McAvoy believes the fight will be a tough one, and there will be fierce opposition from some quarters.

“I think that regardless of whether there’s merit for the mining sector, they will oppose it nevertheless,” Mr McAvoy said.

“I just don’t think there is anything you could do to stop that. It’s all about risk management. They’re not going to stand by and watch another level of risk be added to their operations without putting up some opposition, and they will use whatever they can.”

On that front, history provides ample evidence. The Chamber of Mines in Western Australia led the fight against national land rights in the 1980s. The campaign was bitter, divisive and at times overtly racist.

The Chamber predicted massive gloom and doom. But land rights in NSW was already underway at the time, and has flourished ever since. The predictions of economic ruin for anyone but the blackfellas, of course, never came true.

Even so, Mr McAvoy believes the mining sector would try it on anyway.

“It doesn’t matter what model is put up. It will be opposed by the mining sector and it’s a matter of managing that opposition. They’re incredibly powerful, and as you know, basically the mining sector brought about the downfall of a Prime Minister.

“The establishment of a national land rights model would not be an easy thing to do. There are certainly areas of support for such an idea because of the dissatisfaction people have with the outcome from the native title process… there’s no doubt about that. But whether there’s any support to put through another land claims system, I’m not entirely sure.

“And I suppose I would support the development of a national model – though with a streamlined claims process that largely mirrors the NSW model.

“I think it’s a worthy pursuit.”

Mr Wanganeen agrees that a push for national land rights would inevitably spark scare campaigns from some quarters, although he’s more optimistic than Mr McAvoy about the response from the mining sector.

“I would say that in the past, those scare campaigns came from a variety of sources, not just from the mining industry but within government and also the media.

“Over the last few years, the mining companies have been building extremely good relationships with the Aboriginal community. I’ve heard the Minerals Council (of Australia) make some strong statements supporting the work that the mining industry is doing with Aboriginal communities.

“We would have more allies now then we would have had back in those bad old days… because Aboriginal communities are not stopping development around the country and communities are negotiating benefit packages in the view that they will eventually break the shackles of welfare dependency.

“On national land rights, if you don’t have the mining industry up in arms, the only thing that is actually lacking is the commitment of government. Businesses are coming on board and getting used to the idea of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“But the politicians and the media will try and put forward the myth that Aboriginal people have too much already. That’s not so. Aboriginal people are the last people to enjoy any rights in this country.”

 

 

Moneybags Mal and his million dollar fiction

Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, July 27, 2006 edition.

Comment by Chris Graham

Mal Brough is maintaining a stony silence over claims he made in early June that a man who blew the whistle on alleged paedophile rings and drug and petrol rackets in Central Australia is now under police protection. That “police witness” is in fact Gregory Andrews, a senior staff member of Mal’s department. So while we wait for Mal to track down the cat that got his tongue, we bring you the tale of a slightly more recent public slip from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. It’s a story about an alleged $1 million in cash – allegedly discovered by police as (allegedly) the proceeds of (alleged) drug sales. And it’s a story about a cabinet Minister who seems to get a little carried away when there’s a microphone nearby. Continue reading

The OPIC’s baby-faced assassin

Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 109, July 27, 2006.

By Chris Graham and Brian Johnstone.

A senior public servant within the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination adopted a bogus identity and appeared on one of the nation’s most respected current affairs programs to back contentious claims by his federal minister about paedophile rings in Aboriginal communities.

The man is Gregory Andrews, the head of OIPC’s Communities Engagement Branch. He describes himself to colleagues as the “baby-faced assassin”, a nickname he acquired during his time at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

But viewers of ABC TV’s Lateline program were told on June 21 that Mr Andrews was an anonymous “former youth worker” from Central Australia. Continue reading