Yesterday Crikey was surprised to learn that the Federal Family, Community and Indigenous Services Department had agreed to NT Labor Senator Trish Crossin’s special request for senior public servant Greg Andrews to appear before today’s Senate Estimates committee.
The appearance was hotly anticipated by anyone who’s been following the Mutitjulu controversy, as this is the man at the centre of the controversial Lateline story on s-xual abuse in the remote indigenous community. Crikey was keen to learn of the level of Minister Brough’s involvement in the series of allegations, which have been denied by representatives of the community, and have since resulted in the appointment of an administrator, a fact that the community resents deeply.
Andrews is a senior bureaucrat in Brough’s department and his claims on Lateline backed an earlier line that the Minister had taken. Part of the controversy stems from the fact that Lateline agreed to grant Andrews anonymity and, instead of disclosing his role as a senior bureaucrat in Brough’s department, labelled him a youth worker.
Andrews has since apologised for misleading the Senate and his allegations about Mutitjulu have been vehemently denied by the community.
All of which meant his appearance today could’ve proved to be very informative, and could have provided Andrews with a chance to answer his critics. But now it turns out that Andrews won’t be showing after all. According to ABC News online, the official line from the department this morning came in the form of a sick note:
Department secretary Jeff Harmer said he has changed his mind about Mr Andrews appearing before the committee because it could damage Mr Andrews’ health.
“I ask the committee to appreciate that Mr Andrews has been the subject of considerable criticism,” he said.
“Much of which has been hurtful personal criticism in a public forum such as the media. He has received personal threats as well. Since my Department provided advice that Mr Andrews would attend yesterday, it is now even more evident to me that Mr Andrews is quite understandably, considerably stressed.”