Issues of collusion between Indigenous
Affairs Minister Mal Brough and the senior public servant who appeared in the Lateline
broadcast on Mutitjulu labelled an anonymous youth worker appear to run deeper
than the minister has previously admitted to.

Crikey understands that bureaucrat Gregory
Andrews argued with Brough’s office over an agreed set of words before
appearing anonymously on the Lateline program.

Crikey also understands that Gregory Andrews
consulted with Brough’s office 24 hours before his scheduled interview, and was
still consulting with the minister’s office on the day.

A reliable source tells Crikey there was
communication between Andrews and the minister’s office to get his lines right
– and a dispute over the form of one of Andrews’ answers. According to our
source, Andrews was concerned that one of his answers could be perceived as
dishonest but the argument was later resolved.

Early in July, Susanne Ferguson, Mal Brough’s
spokeswoman, told Crikey, “It had nothing to do with us. It was the Lateline
program. Lateline were the ones who found the witnesses.”

Yesterday in Parliament MP Kelvin Thomson
asked Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough if his office coached Andrews. The
Minister tried to skate over it. He responded:

In preparation
for that interview, Mr Andrews sought and received assistance from the
department on liability issues so that he would not either contravene the
Public Service Code of Conduct or in fact make libellous comments. Those were
the reasons. He also provided the information of his notes to my office. My
office did not coach him in any way. What he was referring to was not as a
public servant of the Commonwealth; it was to his time as an officer working on
behalf of the Northern Territory government in Mutitjulu.

Members of this House congratulate Mr Andrews for having the
guts to stand up and lift the scab off this appalling situation and to try to
rectify the situation on behalf of the people of Mutitjulu.

John Howard’s Ministerial Code of Conduct
is ignored nowadays, but – for the record – it does say:

Ministers must
be honest in their public dealings and should not intentionally mislead the
Parliament or the public. Any misconception caused inadvertently should be
corrected at the earliest opportunity.

A minister coaching a public servant within
his own office, approving that public servant’s decision to appear on a
national current affairs program anonymously, reiterating that public servant’s
comments without disclosing his own connection to the public servant and then
defending the outed public servant in Parliament as a whistleblower might be
stretching it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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