On the ABC news website’s equivalent of a front page this morning, it was reported that the Northern Territory Family and Community Services Minister denouncing the NT intervention as an election ploy. As expected, Mal Brough has come out on the defensive, saying Marion Scrymgour doesn’t know what she’s talking about. 

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough says Ms Scrymgour should resign over the speech because she is out of touch with people on the ground.

Perhaps if she paraphrased a nameless olgaman¹ in the mythical community ‘on the ground’ and gave some minute piece of anecdotal evidence, she might have a bit more credibility, at least in Brough’s eyes. He also took the opportunity to get in a quick jab, attacking both the Labor NT government and the federal opposition:

“Marion needs to resign. She is part of a Territory Government that has signed up to this,” he said.

“She is there blatantly saying it’s wrong. She is one of a long list of Labor people including Jenny Macklin who have been out there who have said they will reinstitute the permit system and they’ll reinstitute CDEP.”

Firstly, I think he goes a tad far to suggest that Ms Scrymgour should resign, and I don’t see how being ‘a part of a government that signed up to this’ affects her ability – as a minister who’s heavily involved with the issue – to make an informed decision about the efficacy or otherwise, of federal policy. In fact it sounds like attempted censorship to me: if he managed to get his way and she did resign, would other parliamentarians be encouraged to speak out when they see good reason to do so? Would Liberal party dissenters speak out?

Secondly, he completely disregards any possibility that the down-grading of the permit system and the complete scrapping of CDEP is perhaps not the best course of action. This is another example of the flawed logic that Brough uses to stifle debate, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

In the interests of a return to healthy debate – not that I think anyone with any power would listen to this – I hereby affirm my belief that the cessation of CDEP is counterproductive to the government’s stated position of lifting aboriginal communities out of poverty and moving people from welfare to work.

CDEP has been a vital source of desperately needed funds for heavily impoverished communities for years now. It’s probably arguable that it has been misappropriated as ‘wages’ and communal revenue when it should have been used to train community members to eventually enter the private workforce, but there are problems with that; private sector jobs don’t exist in large enough numbers. CDEP is not ‘without blemish’, to borrow a phrase, but it’s heavily relied upon in many communities to bridge the gap between passive welfare and commercial operations, like art centres and tourism ventures, or much-needed healthcare services like alcohol rehabilitation centres.

I fail to see how scrapping CDEP could possibly help any of the dysfunctional communities in the Northern Territory (or elsewhere; it’s a federal service), yet Brough seems so sure that it will, that he’s willing to do what he can to put an end to the debate.

I, for one, would like to hear his argument.


I just learned from Kim’s blog that Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett issued a media release today, in which he criticises Brough for the bullying tactics with which he deals with any dissent towards his intervention.

Mr Brough seems to believe that everybody except himself is out of touch with what is happening on the ground, even Aboriginal people who have lived in the Territory their whole lives.

I keep reminding myself not to doubt Brough’s sincerity when it comes to the real motivation for the intervention, but sometimes he really tries my patience.


¹Olgaman, ‘old woman’ (Kriol)