Christian Kerr and Sophie Black write:

on ABC TV has been leading the way in recent coverage of Indigenous issues, with agenda-setting reporting on violence in Aboriginal communities that has made ministers look left behind.

That can be a risky thing to do. For the past fortnight there have been stories circulating that raise the spectre of political manipulation of its reporting. Here’s one tip Crikey received:

I have a source close to Lateline who tells me that the program’s producers are sh-tting themselves after it was revealed in the Sunday Territorian on July 2 that an “anonymous” person interviewed for its program on Mutitjulu was Greg Andrews – a senior bureaucrat in Brough’s Office of Indigenous Affairs – he’s one of the top dogs in the Indigenous Communities Liaison Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination.

Word is he was pressured by Brough’s office to appear. In the show his face was obscured and he was described as a “youth worker”.

This is the Lateline report in question. And this is the Sunday Territorian‘s yarn:

Aunty way off base

The ABC loves nothing more than lecturing the rest of us on how to behave. Why then did Lateline not reveal that one of its “anonymous” talents on a program about the Territory community of Mutitjulu was Greg Andrews, who works for the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough? Bushranger asked Lateline if it thought Greg was an appropriate source of information and was snootily told: “No comment.”

“No comment” seems to be the standard line here – but here’s a certain fact. There is a Greg Andrews who is a Senior Executive Service Band One staff member in the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination in the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

When Crikey spoke to him, he would neither confirm nor deny that he had spoken to Lateline. He referredus to a branch manager in the department and to the minister’s office.

Susanne Ferguson, Mal Brough’s spokeswoman, had a similar line. She initially denied the specific details of the Sunday Territorian article – that Andrews works for Brough – but then when we identified him as a SES Band One staff member in the Department of Indigenous Affairs, she offered no comment. And Ferguson wouldn’t confirm or deny that he was Lateline‘s youth worker.

Ferguson says of the Mutitjulu youth worker, “It had nothing to do with us. It was the Lateline program. Lateline were the ones who found the witnesses.”

The youth worker had a very serious charge. “The people who are in control are the drug dealers and the petrol warlords and the paedophiles,” they said.

That charge tied in strongly with Brough’s law and order message – the theme of his Intergovernmental Summit on Violence and Child Abuse in Indigenous Communities was “safer kids, safer communities” – and his responses to Lateline‘s earlier reporting. It also coincided with media pressure on 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.

It also let Brough do some buck passing. “As to whether people in Mutitjulu have appropriate protection – they demonstrably do not and only the Northern Territory Government can respond to that,” he said in a media release.

Brough cited an unsigned, undated, anonymous fax that was sent to the Northern Territory police in February of this year in an interview with Lateline the day after the Mutitjulu story aired:

TONY JONES: Now, you said today that you actually sent in February a report to the Northern Territory Government. What did it actually outline, that report?

MAL BROUGH: Look, this is – was done by OIPC, the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination. It was as a response to a worker, an employee at the time of the Territory Government is my understanding, who made allegations of five pages.

TONY JONES: In what community?

MAL BROUGH: In Mutitjulu. And had brought these to the attention, it’s my understanding, to the police and other authorities. He made that information available to OIPC. His own words were then sent to the Northern Territory police.

Lateline executive producer Peter Charley confirmed that Lateline was the first “to make contact with all of those appeared in the story … Brough as far as I’m aware put no pressure on anyone, our sources were very keen to talk to us. People we spoke with were not pressured to talk to us in any way whatsoever…”

“Brough’s office became aware that we were doing the story when we were researching it. We were approached independently by a number of people including a number of people from indigenous communities…”

We asked Lateline to confirm or deny if Greg Andrews was the anonymous youth worker but Charley was unable to reveal his source. “We can’t say who it is,” Charley told Crikey, “…I’m not prepared to reveal my sources … We prefer not to have unidentifiable sources on this … but sometimes people come to us with information that’s too explosive to ignore” and we have to go down the path of anonymity.

Crikey followed up rumours that that the NT government was behind the Sunday Territorian story. Clare Martin’s spokesman Richard O’Leary said,”It has nothing to do with our office, we just don’t play those sort of games. It’s the worst kept secret in the NT who this guy is … but it certainly didn’t come from our office. Anybody who knows anybody in the NT knows about this.”

Chris Graham from the National Indigenous Times, who has travelled to Mutitjulu to research the story, told Crikey that his paper will be running the line that Greg Andrews is the anonymous youth worker who appears on the program. Graham alleges Andrews “adopted a bogus identity … to back contentious claims by his federal minister about paedophile rings in Aboriginal communities.”

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

NIT has confirmed that Mr 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.”

“In addition to Mr Andrews, the Lateline story told the experiences of five other people – a doctor, a youth worker, a domestic violence worker, a park ranger, a school teacher and an Aboriginal elder.Apart from Mr Andrews, none of them backed Mr Brough’s claims of paedophile rings, although the domestic violence worker – Jane Lloyd, manager of the NPY Women’s Council in Alice Springs – said paedophiles in Central Australia were ‘organised’ and used kinship and relationships for protection.”

Crikey understands that there are rumours circulating that Andrews is the author of the mysterious fax cited by Brough.

Last night Labor MP for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, talked to PM about revelations Mutitjulu’s funding had been withdrawn. “I think that this process is being set up by the Government based on a series of allegations which have been made to the Commonwealth by a person who’s currently employed by the Commonwealth,” he claimed.

Crikey contacted Snowdon for further comment but he didn’t get back to us by publication time.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey