Mal Brough may be excitable. He may appear to be passionate. He likes to yell, “Who will think of the children?” into microphones. It all makes for a great spectacle. But the problem is Aboriginal Australia doesn’t need another showman, it needs solutions. Brough doesn’t have any now, and he didn’t have any in office.

Brough was out on the weekend claiming that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was being ‘unAustralian’ for not allowing him a spot on the ‘war cabinet’ formed to tackle Indigenous disadvantage (the one unveiled during Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations in February).

So let’s take a look at Brough’s CV shall we?

Let’s not forget one of Brough’s first acts when he became Indigenous affairs minister was to redirect $100,000 in Northern Territory Aboriginal mining royalties to the organisers of a festival in the Queensland electorate of Longman, in addition to another $280,000 in departmental funds.

Brough used to be the Member for Longman.

It was Mal Brough, you’ll recall, who spent much of 2006 and 2007 screaming about the poor performance of state and territory governments in Indigenous affairs. At the same time, his department underspent the Indigenous affairs budget by a staggering $600 million, or one-fifth of the total budget.

And then there’s his time out of office, which has been even more eventful but no more useful.

Brough told media over the weekend that the Rudd government was so ‘political’ that it prevented him, as a private citizen, from bidding on a tender to provide housing to the poor old blackfellas on the Tiwi Islands.

You’ll recall that as Minister, it was Brough who amended the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act — against the will of the almost every Indigenous stakeholder — to allow anyone to buy a 99-year lease on inalienable Aboriginal land.

Fresh out of office, Brough ‘turned developer’ and began approaching the Tiwi Islanders to, believe it or not, buy their land. “(We wanted) to tender in a joint venture with the Tiwi islanders to build houses on the Tiwi islands that Mal Brough would not make one cent out of. But we weren’t even allowed to tender,” Brough told Sky News on Sunday.

Well, Mal Brough is either lying now, or he was lying three months ago when The Australian reported (February 8): “… he reluctantly [said] that he was seeking to make a profit from – and lend a hand to – the islanders in yet- to-be-finalised joint-venture projects on the islands.

A quote from Brough: “The idea is to make a profit in joint-venture partnerships. I’m trying to walk the walk after talking the talk.”

No Mal, you were trying to make money. Nothing wrong with that, but now you’re trying to re-write history. It’s classic Mal Brough ­ just make it up as you go along, safe in the knowledge you won’t be challenged by media.

What Brough understands is that most mainstream journalists have almost no understanding of Indigenous affairs, and even less ‘corporate memory’ of past events. He also knows that stressed and/or lazy journalists don’t want to wade through Senate estimates hearings and media clippings files. They want to stick out a microphone and hear some Brough unplugged. Far easier to meet a deadline that way.

That said, it’s still hard to comprehend that he would get away unchallenged with this rubbish, delivered over the weekend to Sky News: “… the decision to exclude Brough was the “culmination” of a series of inactions including a lack of Indigenous funding in the budget and not acting quickly enough to tackle child abuse,” AAP reported.

The Howard government grossly underfunded Indigenous affairs throughout its entire term in office, in particular the area of Indigenous health. Granted, Labor did as well, but Rudd’s first budget as Prime Minister, while still inadequate, is a million times better than anything Brough or his party delivered. In fact it’s about 800 million times better.

Howard and Costello delivered sufficient budget surpluses over 12 years ($102 billion) to eliminate the gap in Indigenous health funding several hundred times over. Yet year on year, they refused to bridge the funding gap, which by 2007 had grown to an annual shortfall of $460 million. Meanwhile, black kids are still being born with a life expectancy in some regions more than 30 years less than white kids.

The media has even reported, without question, the claim by Brough (and his PR machine aka The Australian newspaper) that his pending trip to the APY Lands to explain the benefits of an NT-style intervention is because of overwhelming support from Indigenous Australians.

I’ve always thought an election result was a far better indication of public support. At the November 2007 federal election, Brough claimed overwhelming support ‘on the ground’ for the NT intervention. His party even predicted the seat of Lingiari ­ which included all of the affected communities ­ would be a ‘referendum’ on the intervention.

Indeed it was. Lingiari used to be a marginal Labor seat. Now it’s a safe one. In some Aboriginal booths, the swing against the Liberals nudged 20 percent. On the Tiwi Islands ­ where Mal Brough has been ‘walking the walk’ — there was a swing against the Liberals of almost 10 percent.

In Yirrikala, where local leaders also posed for media with Brough and promised to sign a 99-year lease, the swing against the Liberals was almost 20 percent. The CLP candidate managed just two votes.

Brough and the media can wheel out the Warren Mundines and Noel Pearsons of Aboriginal Australia all they like and claim overwhelming support for the intervention and Mal Brough personally. But it doesn’t change the reality that to the vast majority of Indigenous Australians, and their non Indigenous supporters, Brough is considered a joke. And a bad one at that.

Brough may be fun to watch and he may make for great sound bites. But he’s all sizzle, no sausage. Hold your ground Kevin Rudd.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.