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.
Mr Andrews’ appearance followed sustained media pressure on Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough to provide evidence of claims he first made on the John Laws radio program in May that paedophile rings were operating throughout Aboriginal communities.
Lateline refused to comment on why Mr Andrew’s identity was suppressed – his face was filmed in shadow and his voice was digitally altered.
In a brief response to written questions by NIT, Lateline stated that it is “ABC’s policy not to reveal the names of anonymous sources” and that Lateline “stands by the integrity of its piece on Mutitjulu. It was both fair and accurate”.
On May 16, Mr Brough was interviewed on Lateline following an explosive story the previous day (by Lateline) on a leaked brief written by Central Australian prosecutor Nanette Rogers, which documented shocking levels of sexual violence in Aboriginal communities.
Mr Brough repeated claims he had made earlier in the day on the Laws program.
He told Lateline: “Everybody in those communities knows who runs the paedophile rings. They know who brings in the petrol, they know who sells the ganja. They need to be taken out of the community and dealt with, not by tribal law, but by the judicial system that operates throughout Australia.”
The following evening (May 17), Lateline broadcast a story headlined ‘Brough backs away from paedophile ring claims’, after intense media scrutiny prompted the minister to urge journalists not to get “hung up about specifics”, such as his use of the word ‘rings’.
A month later, Lateline aired its Mutitjulu story, alleging that a paedophile had been operating in the community under the protection of local Aboriginal men.
NIT is not disputing that there are some serious problems in Mutitjulu and other remote Aboriginal communities.
The Lateline story quoted credible sources in the story, including a former doctor from Mutitjulu and a domestic violence worker from Alice Springs, both of who identified sexual abuse in the community and both of who spoke of violence in Central Australia.
The domestic violence worker – Jane Lloyd, manager of the NPY Women’s Council in Alice Springs – was quoted by Lateline saying paedophiles in Central Australia were “organised” and used kinship and relationships for protection.
A month earlier, on ABC Radio’s World Today program, Ms Lloyd made the point that the use of the word ‘rings’ was not correct.
“In my experience in the last sort of 12, 14 years, I’m not aware of any paedophile rings. I am aware of paedophile activity, that there are men in communities who exploit their position, within families, within the community, in abusing under-aged girls, children, and boys, and also young women who are vulnerable and at risk because of petrol sniffing or they have really weak families.”
But the stories’ more sensational allegations rested entirely on the claims of Mr Andrews and Mr Brough.
The story was introduced to viewers with a replay of the footage from Mr Brough’s paedophile ring claims.
Mr Andrews, introduced as a “former youth worker (anonymous)” is quoted early in the story backing his minister’s claims.
“The people who are in control are the drug dealers and the petrol warlords and the paedophiles,” Mr Andrews said.
A quote from Mr Brough later in the story backed Andrews’ version of life in Mutitjulu: “There are examples of people that have been operating and at a very senior level within Indigenous communities, that have such power over those communities and that use children at their own whim. And they have been dealt with in some cases. In other cases, they are still free and you need to get the evidence.”
Mr Andrews then makes his sensational claims about sexual slavery.
“It’s true that there are predatory men in the central deserts who are systematically abusing young children. I’ve been told by a number of people of men in the region who go to other communities and get young girls and bring them back to their community and keep them there as sex slaves and… exchange sex for petrol with those young petrol sniffers.”
A portion of that voice grab from Mr Andrews was used by Lateline during an interview with ABC Radio’s PM program to promote its upcoming story.
A Lateline journalist told PM the story “substantiated” Mal Brough’s claims about paedophile rings.
PM presenter: “The Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough was bitterly attacked after [the Nanette Rogers] story for suggesting there were paedophile “rings” in remote communities. But tonight’s Lateline story gives the Minister some backing.”
Lateline journalist: “…when Mal Brough, after Lateline’s Nanette Rogers story made that claim [about paedophile rings]… he was attacked for it. But what we have found corroborates what he said. Basically there was a paedophile and he was protected by senior men, and we’ve also discovered that many of those senior men have serious criminal records.”
Lateline also broadcast claims by Mr Andrews that he had seen women with “screwdrivers or other implements through their legs”; that he had seen four-year-old children gambling; and that he had “learnt” of children as young as five “watching pornography in abandoned houses while their parents were 200km away, drinking”.
Mr Andrews broke down and cried during the Lateline interview while claiming that he had withdrawn statements to NT police about a paedophile targeting Mutitjulu children after he was threatened by a local Aboriginal leader.
Following is part of the transcript:
LATELINE JOURNALIST: The Aboriginal youth worker… attempted to expose this man and highlight the illegal drug trade in Mutitjulu. This came at a terrible personal cost.
FORMER YOUTH WORKER: People who belong in these communities, they’ve got nowhere to go, so it’s much harder for them to confront the perpetrators of the abuse.
LATELINE JOURNALIST: And you did try and confront people, didn’t you?
FORMER YOUTH WORKER: I did.
LATELINE JOURNALIST: What happened to you?
FORMER YOUTH WORKER: All of the incidents of sexual abuse and violence that I saw, I reported to the police and I testified in a court about the violence. I testified that children as young as four had been diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases.
LATELINE JOURNALIST: (Pause) It’s really hard, isn’t it?
FORMER YOUTH WORKER: Um…I was threatened. When I returned to the community that I was working in, the region, I was threatened with violence on a number of occasions. My wife was threatened and we were intimidated – to the extent that while we were in hospital with the birth of our 2-day-old child, we were receiving harassing phone calls from people who were trying to threaten and intimidate us to withdraw the statements that I’d made to the police.
LATELINE JOURNALIST: And did you withdraw those statements?
FORMER YOUTH WORKER: I did withdraw the statements, yes.
LATELINE JOURNALIST: And is that your biggest regret?
FORMER YOUTH WORKER: It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot.
NIT sought an interview with Mr Andrews on a number of occasions, including a formal email inviting Mr Andrews to a meeting.
NIT also sent Mr Andrews a series of written questions and we sought comment from Minister Brough’s office and from the head of the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, Wayne Gibbons (in a series of written questions).
None of them responded.
NIT has confirmed that Gregory Andrews did work in Mutitjulu from late 2004 to January 2006.
But he never lived in the community and he was never employed as a youth worker.
In fact, Mr Andrews was hired by the Northern Territory government to manage a project called Working Together, a ‘whole-of-government’ program in Mutitjulu aimed at coordinating services between local, territory and federal government agencies.
He was appointed to the position after the NT Chief Minister, Clare Martin was given a written brief in November 2004 concerning social dysfunction and allegations of child sexual abuse at Mutitjulu.
Mutitjulu community leaders told NIT this week that Mr Andrews job involved him spending, at most, a couple of days a week in the community.
Mr Andrews left that job in January this year to join the OIPC, where, according to his biography which was recently published on the Bennelong Society website, he now holds the public service rank of Deputy Secretary.
At the time, the Alice Springs News reported that Mr Andrews had been “head-hunted” by the OIPC.
Mr Andrews’ biography with the Bennelong Society records that he is “an Australian of shared Aboriginal and European ancestry. He grew up in remote communities in Australia and Africa”.
“Gregory studied economics and post-graduate international relations. He joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1992 where he worked on economic policy issues.
“He speaks Chinese at an advanced professional level and was posted as First Secretary Economic to the Australian Embassy in Beijing from 1996 to 1999.
“After returning from China, Gregory moved to Australia’s international aid agency, AusAID, where he worked on a range of issues including international debt forgiveness, human rights and the environment.
“In 2001, he was promoted to Director of Governance at AusAID where he worked on new governance policies including capacity building and incentives in the aid program.”
Prior to arriving in Mutitjulu, Mr Andrews “managed the Northern Land Council’s operations in West Arnhem Land”.
Today, there are conflicting reports about the state of Mutitjulu before and after Mr Andrews’ arrival.
Mr Andrews told ABC News in the Northern Territory in January this year, as the outgoing manager of the project, that it had led to the imminent construction of a new police station, major reforms to the community council and developments in the fight against petrol sniffing.
But, six months after Mr Andrews’ departure Lateline is alleging that law and order has broken down in Mutitjulu, that the community suffers “… rapes, kidnaps, murders, arson, the torching of houses” and that local youth were being given petrol in exchange for sex.
NIT met with around 30 Aboriginal people from the community earlier this week, many of them senior elders, both male and female.
Not surprisingly, they told a vastly different story about their country.
Petrol sniffing has been completely eradicated from the community, a fact they acknowledged was in large part the result of the federal government’s roll-out of non-sniffable Opal fuel into the nearby resort town of Yulara.
The people also acknowledged that violence was a part of their community, like every other, but that Aboriginal people preferred to deal with it in the Aboriginal way.
During the community meeting, Mr Andrews’ successor, as project manager of Working Together, was ejected.
Community members explained that a considerable amount of work needed to be done to rebuild trust in the project following the departure of Mr Andrews.
They pointed out that a steering committee for the project had never once met in the community.
They are dismayed at the government’s suspension of their funding and devastated at the way their men, women and children were portrayed by ABC’s Lateline.
Through an interpreter, Barbara, a senior elder from Mutitjulu told NIT on Monday: “The story was really, really bad and we felt really, really sad afterwards.
“We were really offended at the depiction of our children.
“It was a big shock. The story came from over there.”
Barbara pointed towards Alice Springs, and confirmed that at no time did Lateline visit Mutitjulu in the lead-up to the story.
Lateline acknowledged this fact to NIT, but added: “[Lateline] sought permission several times to visit Mutitjulu.”