Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, is many things to many people. But first and foremost he’s a politician.

That’s not meant to be a compliment. It’s meant to explain why he took $100,000 from the nation’s poorest, most desperate citizens (Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory) and gave it to the organisers of a cultural festival in his own Queensland electorate of Longman.

And it’s also meant to explain why the Minister then signed a letter which falsely claimed the expenditure had been approved by an Aboriginal advisory committee.

Such are the claims on the front page of today’s National Indigenous Times and reported by Michelle Grattan in The Age and Laura Tingle in The Financial Review. Here are the facts.

The festival is called The Dreaming, and was staged in June 2006 in the small community of Woodford, a town which happened to sit in Mal Brough’s electorate at the time.

The money was taken from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (ABA), which holds mining royalty equivalency payments for mining that occurs on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. By law, money from the account can only be used for the benefit of Aboriginal people in the Territory.

An advisory committee had been asked to approve $186,000 for funding for The Dreaming, but delayed the decision on the basis that it was unclear who was actually getting the funds. The committee asked for more information, as responsible committees should do.

But just a few weeks later, Mal Brough wrote to the committee and told them they’d approved the funding.

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Minutes of the advisory committee meeting very clearly contradict Brough’s version of events.

Yet the pork-barrelling continued. In addition to the $100,000 from the ABA, The Dreaming also secured a further $280,000 from Brough’s department, (Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs – FaCSIA).  

That’s despite the fact that the previous year – when Amanda Vanstone was minister – The Dreaming was knocked back for funding from the Indigenous affairs budget.

Here’s a few other salient points to remember:

  • This is the first time in the 30 year history of the Aboriginals Benefit Account that money has been spent outside the Northern Territory in this way. And it just happened to be in the electorate of the politician who signs the cheques – if that doesn’t warrant further scrutiny, I don’t know what does.
  • It’s Mal Brough who has been screaming from the tree-tops about the failings of the NT government in misusing Indigenous affairs funding. And it was Brough who said he would “spend whatever it takes” to save Aboriginal kids. Maybe he could start by arranging for the $100,000 to be paid back?
  • And it was Brough who, in January this year, was accusing Aboriginal people from the Northern Territory of misusing mining royalties. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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