Mal Brough learns the ropes the hard way

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Christian Kerr writes from bitter experience:

Wanna know the difference between being a junior minister and a member of cabinet? Keep an eye on Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough. He’s learning the hard way.

When you’re a politician, you can have a great issue ready to run with – but you’ve got to  be able to deal with the consequences of the issue you raise. Even more so when you’ve got responsibility for it.

Brough and his advisers appear to have been unable to see past the first headline. They seem to have confused ends and means. That’s the only explanation for his claims of p-edophilia on Lateline on Tuesday. Brough wanted to talk tough. He wanted to be able to assert his power. Host Tony Jones must have been primed by the pressie. Look how the interview began:

TONY JONES: Well, it’s been a confronting 24  hours for the Indigenous community. Nanette Rogers’s comments on this program last night seem to have opened the floodgates. Today, we’ve been getting reports from different parts of the country. From Western Australia, there are new claims of Aboriginal babies and children being r-ped and m-lested. And later today, we’ve
learned about an horrific attack on an 18-year-old woman from the Ernabella-Pukatja
community in South Australia in the past few days. We’ve been told she had petrol thrown on her stomach and was set alight. She has deep burns to 20% of her body and is now in the burns unit of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Joining me now to talk about what can be done to stem the endemic tide of violence and substance abuse is the Federal Minister for Aboriginal and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough. Thanks for being here.MAL BROUGH: Good to be with you, Tony.

JONES: It’s much more widespread than central Australia by what you were saying today?

BROUGH: Yes, it is. Yes, it is…

Brough played his card:

BROUGH: I would first and foremost want to work with the elected government of the  Territory. If that fails to produce what I think are the only workable solutions, which is good governance and law and order, then we shouldn’t close our minds to any alternative that is possible to the Federal Government.JONES: Including, obviously, from what you are saying, anything.

BROUGH: Anything.

JONES: So the Commonwealth could take control of the Northern Territory and deal with the Aboriginal issues in the NT itself, take that power away from –

BROUGH: Tony, I’m talking on face value what I saw ten minutes ago by a constitutional lawyer. I am not a constitutional lawyer. All I would simply say to you is that the Australian public should demand of the Howard Government that if the Territory Government doesn’t deal with these issues with us in a cooperative fashion, then we should not at any stage rule out every
alternative.

But with power comes responsibility. Brough played his card. And then he dropped the deck:

Until you get out the root cause and it comes back to the fundamental issue I keep speaking about, and that’s law and order and maintaining it. Everybody in those communities knows who runs the p-edophile rings. They know who brings in the petrol and they know who sells the ganja. They need to be taken out of the community and dealt with, not by tribal law, but by the judicial system that operates throughout Australia. We’re all equal in this country and we should all be treated the same way.

Jones knew it:

I’m sorry, you just said something which astonished me. You said paedophile rings that operate in these communities. What evidence is there of that?

It’s been back-pedalling ever since. Today’s Age wraps it all neatly:

Mr Brough, who arrived in Alice Springs last night to visit town camps and meet traditional owners about the problem, said he had already raised the issue with NT Police Commissioner Paul White and a senior Alice Springs policeman.But Mr White yesterday issued a statement saying he had not held discussions about p-edophile
rings with Mr Brough, and urged him to report any information he may have.

NT Chief Minister Clare Martin accused Mr Brough of political grandstanding by making “unsubstantiated allegations”. She said if he had evidence he should pass it on to the NT police…

At least he knows what to do when you say too much — let your words get lost in more talk.

Brough has now announced a national summit to discuss ways of cracking down on the abuse of
women and children in the Indigenous population.

The Prime Minister has also weighed in from the other side of the Pacific with a handy reminder that more money is not the solution to violence in Aboriginal communities . No doubt he’ll have more to say to his new Cabinet member in private when he returns.

Peter Fray

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