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.
IT WAS Mal Brough’s big moment in the sun. A law and order summit, important state officials travelling from all around the country just to see him. Travel allowance was being paid all over the nation. Plenty of media were planning to attend. Lots of photo opportunities. John Laws might even be there.
I am of course referring to Brough’s emergency summit between federal, state and territory ministers aimed at tackling violence and dysfunction in Aboriginal communities.
It was staged in Canberra on June 26 as a result of a string of stories on ABC TV’s Lateline program.
Unfortunately, Lawsy didn’t make it. He’s getting ona bit and probing interviews and ministerial press conferences are not his forte. Which perhaps explains how this remarkable whopper from Mal Brough the morning after the summit slipped through unchallenged.
Brough was relating a story on ‘Lawsy’s’ national radio breakfast program about just how bad things had got in black Australia.
“[The Northern Territory] police force picked up a million dollars in cash, illicit cash, which was the proceeds of sale of illicit substances into one small community,” Mr Brough told Southern Cross Broadcasting.
Illicit cash! Has anyone informed the Mint?
As for the claim a million dollars cash was discovered, proceeds of the sale of illicit substances in one small Aboriginal community… well, that’s quite a call.
It’s also false.
Anyone with 10 seconds knowledge of Aboriginal Australia knows that you’d be more likely to find life on Mars than a million dollars in cash. You might, for example, find every kid in town has a new pair of Nikes, or perhaps five new Toyota Landcruisers parked outside the local store.
But Aboriginal communities do not stock-pile cash. They’re dirt poor – if they get money, they use it. And they share it.
Not surprisingly, immediately after Brough’s broadcast on the Laws’ program, a few alert journalists smelt a rat.
What’s most alarming, of course, is that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs didn’t. But his lack of understanding of Aboriginal Australia is another story for another time.
Media began following up the yarn, and Brough immediately began back-peddling. He claimed the story had been related to him during the law and order summit by ‘someone’. He’d taken the story and repeated it “in good faith”.
And just as quickly as the scandal began to take shape, it disappeared. Brough killed the story by refusing to comment further, so journalists gave up and went looking for something else to report.
It wasn’t until Thursday – two days later – that Brough finally fessed up to the monster fiction. And only then because two news organisations – NIT and http://www.crikey.com.au – had refused to let the yarn go.
Given the tone of the questioning directed at Brough – and the fact the false claims were easily disproved – Brough outed himself on Thursday evening before NIT or Crikey could, admitting to journalists that he had “failed to check his facts”.
Unfortunately, Brough’s ‘correction’ contained more fiction than the original lie.
News Limited reported Brough’s confession thus: “INDIGENOUS Affairs Minister Mal Brough has retracted his claim that police seized $1 million in cash from the sale of drugs to an indigenous community, admitting he failed to check his facts.
“Mr Brough made the claim on radio on Tuesday, the morning after a ministerial summit in Canberra aimed at tackling violence and abuse in remote indigenous communities.
“(A state or territory) police force picked up a million dollars in cash, illicit cash, which was the proceeds of sale of illicit substances into one small community,” Mr Brough told Southern Cross Broadcasting.
“Mr Brough tonight admitted the claim was second-hand information he had used in his eagerness to highlight problems in outback communities.
“His office conceded the $1 million was the value of drugs dealt in the community over an extended period of time, and not how much cash was seized.
“‘The minister was simply relaying to an interested community a comment that was passed to him in good faith at the conference, by [a] Northern Territory minister, about the value of a drug bust in a community in the NT,’ a spokesman for Mr Brough said.
“‘I believe they demonstrated a positive outcome and (highlighted) the magnitude of the problems to the public.'”
In fact, not only had police not seized $1 million in cash, nor $1 million in drugs sold “over an extended period of time”, but nor was there any evidenec that $1 million had been spent on drugs in one ‘small Aboriginal community’.
NT police confirmed that there was a drug bust. Around $200,000 in cash was found. Under the NT’s ‘unexplained monies’ legislation, police also seized a house and other property.
But guess what… the police raid had absolutely nothing to do with Aboriginal communities.
It was a drug bust of a white man in Darwin with no links to Aboriginal people whatsoever.
The whole story relayed by Brough on the Laws program was a fiction. The subsequent ‘confession’ by Brough was even worse.
It begs the questions, is this really how cabinet ministers in the Howard government should conduct themselves in public?
Mal Brough is a media cowboy. He shoots from the lip and plays loose with the truth. In Indigenous Affairs, they don’t call him ‘The Malborough Man’ for nothing.
He does it because he knows that when it comes to Indigenous affairs, the media will rarely question him and the public will always believe him.
This is the same man who went on ABC Lateline and claimed paedophile rings were operating throughout Aboriginal communities. And then backed down. And then re-adopted the claims.
It’s the same man who told media one of his senior staff is under police protection, after blowing the whistle on the so-called paedophile rings.
Making the same mistake once is unfortunate. Twice is stupid. But this is Brough’s third offence in a little over a month – the Lord of Drug Raids appears to have a habit.
You can’t help but get the feeling that if someone doesn’t rein in the wild colonialist boy soon, he’s going to say something other people – bigger, more important people in cabinet – might truly regret.
Perhaps something like: “That… million dollars… could have fed kids, built houses, all sorts of things.”
Brough’s office explained that the Minister’s grand tale to John Laws was intended as a positive remark about progress
being made by police in Aboriginal communities. So inventing a story that Aboriginal people would sooner spend a non-existent million bucks on drugs than food for their kids is a positive thing?
God only knows what the Minister thinks is an insult… although I suspect NIT is about to find out.
NOTE TO READERS: Mr Brough’s office did not respond to requests for comment on this issue. Perhaps that’s because, to paraphrase an earlier comment from a Mal Brough staffer, NIT makes stuff up and disguises opinion as fact. Now there’s irony for you.