Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin, a member of the Senate committee for the Inquiry into Petrol Sniffing in Remote Aboriginal Communities, yesterday tabled a letter from Gregory Andrews, the senior bureaucrat at the centre of the Mutitjulu Lateline storm, admitting that he misled Parliament – a revelation that came to light a fortnight ago, but one that Tony Jones and Lateline have not yet reported.

“Unsubstantiated accusations either by public servants or through shows such as Lateline do nothing to assist or arrest the strife and the dysfunctionality in these communities”, Crossin told Parliament. “In my mind, the ABC, courtesy of Lateline and Mr Tony Jones, has seriously eroded the credibility of Indigenous people.”

Yesterday in Crikey, Jones referred to Andrews as “a passionate public advocate for change at Mutitjulu” and “a key player in the debate about what was going on in Mutitjulu”. Yet Crossin said:

Public servants who choose to mislead the Senate are not helpful, nor do they do their minister or their government any service by being dishonest in their evidence…

Tony Jones has dismissed Crikey’s claims about Lateline‘s Mutitjulu coverage as conspiracy theorising, but what about the holes in Lateline‘s story? Crossin continued, referring to yesterday’s Crikey:

[I]n my estimation the credibility and the high professionalism enjoyed in this country by Lateline have been severely diminished … I notice, Tony Jones, that you did not actually repeat that or seek to qualify the unsubstantiated accusations on your show. The Northern Territory Police’s press release suggested that they had viewed hundreds of people and had not yet come up with any evidence. Where is the balance in the reporting here? Where is the attempt to get out to the community and to provide another side to the story? …

What we tend to do is see on national television wild accusations which are unsubstantiated but then not qualified by the ABC. I seriously think that the reporting behaviour of this show needs investigating. I am grossly disappointed by the lack of impartiality of the ABC in relation to this, and I do not believe that their behaviour in the last two months has done anything to try and arrest the gross dysfunctionality in some of these communities or the lack of attention to petrol sniffing in this country.

Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett commented, “There are aspects of the way this story was handled by Lateline that I think are less than ideal … [W]e have to guard against double standards and against each of us, from our different perspectives, using scenarios that arise purely to advance our own political, ideological or philosophical barrow of the day.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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