Jul 31, 2012

Chris Graham: Brough is back, with a record of failure

There's a broad expectation that Mal Brough will walk straight back into the ministry if he wins Fisher. And there's widespread fear in black Australia that the portfolio will be Aboriginal affairs.

Chris Graham

Tracker managing editor

The best predictor of someone’s future behaviour is their past behaviour. Which means that with Mal Brough winning pre-selection for the federal seat of Fisher, Parliament is in for a sideshow the likes of which it hasn’t seen since … well, since 2007. There's a broad expectation that Brough will walk straight back into the ministry if he wins Fisher. And there's widespread fear in black Australia that the portfolio will be Aboriginal affairs, given Brough’s boys own adventure in 2007 with the Northern Territory intervention. I think the fear is misplaced. Brough today is about as popular with his colleagues as a refugee at a Liberal Party convention. And he was a pretty terrible minister for indigenous affairs to boot. With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting some of the policy disasters over which Brough presided during the Howard years. Destination anywhere The Community Development Employment Program -- aka the black work for the dole -- was designed and run by Aboriginal people, and had been chugging away relatively successfully for more than three decades. Enter Brough, who decided in 2006 that CDEP had become a "destination" rather than a "path to real employment". He began abolishing CDEP in remote regions, despite the fact CDEP was the ONLY source of employment in impoverished towns, not to mention the major funder of basic services. Aboriginal unemployment when Brough left office was at near record levels. Who wants a home? In 2007, Brough decided Aboriginal people were at risk of becoming communists because they couldn’t purchase their own homes on collectively owned Aboriginal land in remote areas. So, after amending the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in the NT, Brough unveiled the Home Ownership on Indigenous Lands program (HOIL), a government-funded scheme aimed at helping blackfellas buy a plot of land they already owned. He quarantined $100 million in government funding for HOIL while at the same time underfunding the highly successful Home Ownership Program (which enabled Aboriginal people anywhere in the country to access home loans). HOP's waiting list blew out exponentially while money sat locked in the HOIL program. Finally, after five years of operation, Brough's HOIL was quietly shelved and the money diverted into HOP. The HOP waiting list dropped instantly from 1,500 to just over 400 -- that’s more than 1000 Aboriginal families into home ownership almost overnight. And the cost of Brough’s HOIL adventure? Some $10 million to administer a program that provided just 15 loans worth $2.7 million. Stashing cash while Rome burns Brough spent much of his time as minister pounding the state and territory Labor governments for their poor performance on indigenous affairs. A good thing, too. But at the same time, in 2006-07 his department underspent the Indigenous Affairs budget by a staggering $600 million, one-fifth of the total budget. This in the same year that Brough declared "a national emergency" in NT Aboriginal communities. I didn't finish it … but I did start it And speaking of the NT intervention, five years on the policy that defined Brough's time as minister has seen school attendance drop, suicide and self-harm rates double, and a more than doubling in reports of violent incidents. All the while the incarceration rate has soared to almost 90% of the prison population. Brough has the luxury of not being able to be held accountable for the failings of the NT intervention -- he was, after all, cast from office five months after it was launched. But Brough is responsible for the implementation of the intervention, and on that front things aren’t pretty. A parliamentary inquiry found its implementation was very poor -- apart from alienating Aboriginal people and providing no emergency accommodation for anyone but police and soldiers, it caused widespread starvation among Aboriginal communities. A $1 million porkie When Brough told media this week that at no stage did he ever request extracts from Peter Slipper's diary (despite text messages showing him requesting extracts from Slipper's diary) he was simply adopting a practice that had worked well for him in the unaccountable world of indigenous affairs. Perhaps his most startling "deny deny deny" moment came when he walked out of a roundtable summit on Aboriginal violence and told media that someone in the meeting had revealed things were so bad in NT Aboriginal communities that $1 million in cash had been found in one remote town, the proceeds from the sale of drugs. One million in cash? In a remote community? Really?  The story, of course, collapsed when it later transpired there was a drug bust in the NT, but it occurred in Darwin, the amount of cash involved was small, and the guy arrested was white, with no links to Aboriginal communities whatsoever.Black cash, white pork-barrel One of Brough's first acts as minister was to pinch $100,000 from the Aboriginals Benefit Account (which holds NT mining royalties on behalf of blackfellas) and provide it to the organisers of the Woodford Folk Festival, in Queensland. By law, ABA funds must be spent for the benefit of NT Aborigines. Brough wasn't the first politician to pork-barrel with ABA funding but he was definitely the first one to do it outside NT. In case you were wondering, Woodford was in Brough’s electorate of Longman. A pool of easy cash The ABA proved irresistible to Brough while in office. His most spectacular raid was undoubtedly the $4 million he pinched to upgrade the Alice Springs Aquatic Centre, a pool owned by the Alice Springs town council. At the same time, Brough attacked traditional owners repeatedly for what he claimed was the irresponsible expenditure of mining royalty monies. A land rights for whites Even after leaving the job, Brough couldn't let go. Having amended the NT Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 2006 to allow whitefellas to buy Aboriginal land, Brough was kicked out of Parliament, then boarded the the first flight to the Tiwi Islands where he tried to convince the Tiwis to enter into a joint venture with him and sign over their land. The deal was blocked by the Rudd government. In true Brough style, he simply made up the media script to suit the political winds, telling The Australian newspaper on February 8, 2008 that he was "seeking to make a profit from -- and lend a hand to -- the islanders", then later when the deal was shot telling the Sydney Morning Herald he never stood to “make one cent out of it”. A demountable promise Brough's failings in Aboriginal affairs went beyond bad policy and media silliness. There was also plenty of inaction. The most stark occurred in 2006, after Brough promised more than 80 demountable buildings from the recently closed Woomera detention centre would be urgently installed in remote Aboriginal communities as emergency housing. By the time he left office 18 months later, not one demountable had been installed. Instead, they sat rusting in an Alice Springs industrial yard until the Rudd government finally sent them north in 2008 … as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers on Christmas Island. Today, the average number of Aboriginal people per dwelling in the NT remains at around 9.4 persons per dwelling, the same level it was when Brough entered office. This is despite the expenditure of at least one billion dollars on Aboriginal housing across the Territory over six years.

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15 thoughts on “Chris Graham: Brough is back, with a record of failure

  1. Liz45

    Chris, one can only hope that the ‘heat’ re the Slipper affair reveals ALL the lies, and the CNP is forced to remove his authorization to stand in Fisher? I won’t hold my breath though! It’s telling on the members of the CNP – their attitude to the past history of Brough, together with his lied about role in the dirty saga re James Ashby/Slipper situation is appalling to say the least. One can live in hope!

    In the meantime, the Gillard Govt will persist in the racist and horrific Intervention, and the suffering of aboriginal people will get worse. And to think I was hopeful of a different attitude altogether when Labor was elected in ’07. The Apology was going to be the turning point I thought! Of course, I didn’t think of all the applications to dig up resources in northern Qld and the NT? Very sad and angry about the whole rotten deal. It’s back to the 40’s or worse?

    Last night’s 4 Corners about the WA attitude to the cries by an aboriginal woman for protection for herself and her children, who was finally murdered by her husband; a woman originally from Japan, whose husband was given a pathetic sentence for her murder just proved what too many of us have known for decades. The attitudes to aboriginal people, particularly women and kids is much different to that relating to white women and kids – and god knows, that’s pretty grotty too at times?

  2. zut alors

    It beggars belief that Brough won pre-selection, the LNP must believe they are bulletproof at the next federal election.

    Brough has more than a whiff of scandal about him in the Slipper matter and the odds are that more revelations could irrevocably taint all involved including those on the immediate sidelines. If that happens Brough will be spoiled goods.

  3. klewso

    You’ll never get a job with Limited News – they do his laundry for him.

  4. rudimax

    I love how Abbott’s narrative about Brough and Ashby has been ‘he’s been upfront about his involvement’ – which is true as long as your definition of ‘upfront’ is lying to journalists then changing your story when confronted with undeniable evidence.

  5. CML

    Great article, Chris. Time someone told the assembled public what a
    sleaze-bag Brough is. LNP preselection for this odious reptile is
    unbelievable! Either they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, or
    they are overconfident about their prospects at the next election.
    No one should even comtemplate voting for this person with his
    previous record, as outlined in your comment piece.

  6. malcolm.grant1

    I am hoping that there are enough people in the electorate willing to vote 1 Slipper or 1 ‘Anyone Else’ and 2 Slipper to elect him as an Independent.

  7. Gocomsys

    Excellent article, great posts. Let’s hope the tide is turning and the LNP is seen for what it is. Radical, dysfunctional and policy free. In other words unelectable!
    At least the ALP (Alternative Liberal Party) has a hard working leader and a host of “acceptable” policies. Many of which have already been implemented. Well done!

  8. michael crook

    As one of the YRAW steering committee whose work in Longman got rid of Brough, I am more than happy to campaign against him again. The Intervention justified by Brough on child abuse statistics was a littler odd considering that, at the time, Domestic Violence and child abuse rates were far higher in his own electorate of Longman.

    He reminds me in many ways of the Labor Unity Faction opportunists who have helped to bring down the ALP.

  9. klewso

    But – behind in the polls – “attention” to those statistics weren’t as stunt-worthy.

  10. klewso

    Anyway, now Lie-low Abbott has another candidate who can match his own credentials.

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