Minders block National Indigenous Times to Abbott trip as the paper declared "public enemy number one"

Courtesy of The National Indigenous Times - Editorial - The National Indigenous Times was “public enemy number one” according to mining billionaire, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest when he launched a scathing attack on the publication at an informal gathering of senior Federal Government Ministers and advisers in Canberra recently and the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott’s minders declared at the same gathering there was no way they wanted to any journalists from the National Indigenous Times present during Mr Abbott’s visit to Yolngu Country this week because they did not want Mr Abbott to have to deal with “confronting questions” about the government’s failure to honour promises to First Nations People, according to sources within the Abbott Government.

The informal gathering was held to discuss the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to Yolngu Country and how media representatives should be dealt with. Those attending the meeting included the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion and Health Minister, Peter Dutton among other senior Ministers and staff as well as Andrew Forrest.

According to the sources who were present at the gathering the Prime Minister’s minders said during the meeting they did not want National Indigenous Times staff present in Yolngu Country while Mr Abbott was there because the publication had published a number of articles highly critical of the Prime Minister on the subject of Indigenous affairs.

It was after those comments by the Prime Minister’s minders Mr Forrest then launched his own scathing attack on the publication because he didn’t like what the National Indigenous Times had published about him.

The sources said Mr Forrest was furious with the coverage in the National Indigenous Times of his “Creating Parity” report and what he regarded as negative coverage generally about him in the publication. The National Indigenous Times has published a range of articles from community leaders on Mr Forrest’s “Creating Parity” proposal, most of which have been critical of his proposals. The publication has also published a number of articles which revealed questionable actions by Mr Forrest and Fortescue Metals Group in its dealings with the Yindjibarndi People over mining rights of Yindjibarndi Country.

The sources said the mining billionaire left no-one at the gathering in any doubt he regarded the publication as a threat to promoting his agenda both in terms of his mining operations and his proposals to rewrite policies on Indigenous affairs in what was described by the sources as a “scathing attack on the National Indigenous Times”.

He told the gathering he regarded the National Indigenous Times as a “rubbish paper and not credible”.

The sources said Mr Forrest is regarded as a “protected species” within the Abbott Government and was probably now the most powerful influence in the Abbott Government on matters relating to Indigenous affairs. Mr Forrest was now exerting his influence across a swathe of portfolios and his attack upon the National Indigenous Times was designed to ensure the Abbott Government did not react to coverage of him in the publication.

The sources said Mr Forrest was clearly upset and agitated about the National Indigenous Times and his attack on the publication had “raised eyebrows” among many of those present at the meeting.

He told the gathering he was angry the National Indigenous Times was “trashing” people like him and the policy changes he was pushing for in Indigenous affairs. He also told the gathering he believed the National Indigenous Times was “on its last legs” and “would soon be out of business”.

The National Indigenous Times is currently facing a defamation action which involves Mr Forrest and Fortescue Metals Group. The defamation action relates to articles published by the National Indigenous Times which revealed Mr Forrest and his company had funded the creation of a breakaway group among the Yindjibarndi People in Western Australia to try and get an agreement to mine on Yindjibarndi Country.

The breakaway group, called the Wirlu-murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation was formed in opposition to the legally prescribed representative organisation, the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation after Mr Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group failed to convince the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation to accept a financial package for the mining rights.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation refused to accept the Fortescue offer because it was less than that paid by another mining company, Rio Tinto for mining rights on another area of Yindjibarndi Country. It was revealed Fortescue then funded the establishment of the Wirlu-murra breakaway group.

Fortescue then entered into an agreement with the Wirlu-murra to mine on Yindjibarndi Country which was ratified by the National Native Title Tribunal’s Western Australian office even though the Native Title Tribunal was aware the Wirlu-murra was not the prescribed body with any legal authority to enter into an agreement on behalf of the Yindjibarndi People.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation challenged the agreement between Fortescue and the Wirlu-murra group in the Federal Court which ruled the only organisation Fortescue could negotiate with was the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation.

New revelations Abbott’s takeover of Indigenous affairs now “in tatters” - by Canberra Times, Noel Towell

Only weeks after the National Indigenous Times revealed the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council was dysfunctional new revelations have emerged claiming Mr Abbott’s takeover of Indigenous affairs is in “disarray” with hundreds of specialist public servants retrenched, funding and programs stalled and staff morale in the “doldrums”.

Senior leaders in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Indigenous Affairs Group have based themselves in Canberra’s dress circle, nearly 10 kilometres away from their rank-and-file workers, who are still reeling after repeated restructures to their workplaces.

The internal problems have emerged on the eve of the Prime Minister’s trip to Arnhem Land, part of his pledge to be “a Prime Minister for Indigenous affairs” that also included the takeover by PM&C of Indigenous functions from several other government agencies.

The department admits that things are “difficult” but says it is working “towards building a cohesive department” after forced mergers saw it try to absorb an extra 1800 public servants.

The Prime Minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment. The hundreds of public servants still working in the PM&C’s Indigenous Affairs Group are trying to overhaul programs and transfer key responsibilities to regional offices in line with Mr Abbott’s promised shake-up of services.

But departmental sources say the work is going on against a background of upheaval and disruption after several restructures and 236 redundancies, including senior executives and middle managers distracted by being forced to apply for their own jobs.

“Staff are still unclear how the new program arrangements will be assessed and managed,” one PM&C staffer said. “The disorganised state has meant Indigenous groups and other stakeholders have not been consulted.

“Most 2014-2015 money is not available as many existing contracts were automatically extended for 12 months. There are some funds for Indigenous education projects but this will be well short of demand. Staff morale is in the doldrums in IA group.”

A PM&C spokesman defended his department’s performance, saying it was doing its best after being quadrupled in size and having to absorb 1800 extra public servants from nine other agencies, with the Prime Minister also taking over as Minister for Women.

“Most of the staff were in the Indigenous Affairs area but the deregulation function and the Office for Women are also new to PM&C,” the spokesman said.

- Noel Towell, Canberra Times - http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/tony-abbotts-ind...

Prime Minister’s Advisory Council - It’s a disaster! - Front page of The National Indigenous Times

This group is dysfunctional, ignored by government and they have not reached one decision in 9 months.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council has descended into a group split into factions which argues among themselves and is ignored by the Prime Minister and the Government Ministers.

The relationship both within the Advisory Council and between Council members and the government had become so taut it had now reached a point where the Advisory Council was incapable of agreeing on any initiative for First Nations people let alone the Advisory Council developing any initiative in its own right.

Some members of the Advisory Council blame the Prime Minister for the current situation because he had failed to ensure the Advisory Council had the authority and structures in place to allow it to perform the role Mr Abbott had outlined when announcing the formation of the Advisory Council last year.

Sources claim the Advisory Council was now little more than a rubber stamp used when the Federal Government needed to point to the First Nations members of the Council to justify unpopular government policies.

Members of the Advisory Council are not allowed to speak publicly about their role on the Advisory Council or whether or not they agree with government policy because they each signed a strict confidentiality agreement when they accepted their appointment. Many of the Advisory Council members are understood to now regret they had agreed to join. The primary function of the Advisory Council outlined by Mr Abbott last year had proved to be an illusion with members claiming their views were rarely sought, they were being excluded from discussion on policy development and instead were simply being told what the government had decided to do.

Worse still members of the Advisory Council were embarrassed and disappointed they had not delivered one plan to the Federal Government for consideration since it was established more than nine months ago.

The relationships among some members of the Advisory Council had also become so toxic some are refusing to even speak with each other and there was now some doubt the Advisory Council would even meet again because there was no prospect of agreements being reached.

Mr Abbott appointed eight First Nations representatives to the 12 member Advisory Council. They are Mr Warren Mundine as Chair, Dr Ngiare Brown as Deputy Chair, Ms Leah Armstrong, Ms Josephine Cashman, Mr Richard Ah Mat, Mr Djambawa Marawili, Mr Bruce Martin and Mr Daniel Tucker. Gail Kelly, Andrew Penfold and Professor Peter Shergold were also appointed as non-Indigenous members.

Mr Abbott said the purpose of the Advisory Council was to provide advice to the government on Indigenous affairs and to focus on practical changes to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Prime Minister said the Advisory Council would provide ongoing advice on emerging policy and implementation issues related to Indigenous affairs such as improving school attendance and educational attainment, creating lasting employment opportunities, reviewing land ownership and other drivers of economic development, preserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, building the capacity of communities, service providers and governments and promoting better evaluation to inform government decision-making.

At the time of announcing the formation of the Advisory Council Mr Abbott said in a prepared statement he “wanted a new engagement with Aboriginal people to be one of the hallmarks of my government”.

Mr Abbott said the Council provided a diversity of views and experience to the task of “ensuring our programmes achieve real, positive change in the lives of Aboriginal people – changes that can increase participation, preserve Aboriginal culture and build reconciliation”.

He said the Council would meet three times a year with the Prime Minister and senior Ministers.

However, since then the Prime Minister has instead met with only Mr Mundine and not the entire Advisory Council.

Sources have confirmed members of the Advisory Council had become disenchanted reporting to the Prime Minister because Mr Abbott did not have the required time to focus on Indigenous issues. Some members were also upset and angry with public comments made by Warren Mundine on a range of issues because his comments were not the views held by other members of the Advisory Council.

Increasingly members of the Advisory Council would prefer to report directly to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion and that Mr Mundine should be told not to express his personal views in his capacity as the Chairman of the Advisory Council.

Just what is going on inside the Indigenous Advisory Council?
- Dysfunctional, they are not meeting and members are arguing with each other
- Members frustrated they signed confidentiality agreements which prohibit members speaking out publicly
- Members feel they are just a mouthpiece of Federal Government
- They do not work with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs but merely “advise” the Prime Minister. They feel the Prime Minister does not have any setup for them to work with other than to merely advise him.
- The IAG nearing its one year anniversary and has achieved zero in initiatives. Some feel they are “in deficit!”
- Some members are not happy with the Budget proposals and want an urgent review but their concerns are just ignored
- They do not believe anything has been achieved in job creation, education roll outs and safer and empowered communities
- Members upset at the public fallout towards the IAG and adverse reaction to comments by Warren Mundine. They are worried about their reputations
- Members are opposed to Warren Mundine’s push for the IAG to accept the 2014 Budget and instead work towards guiding and advising on the 2015 Budget.
- Members concerned with the disjointed approach by government. One minute Indigenous affairs is being driven by the Prime Minister, then by Warren Mundine, then by Nigel Scullion, then by Andrew Forrest and Marcia Langton, then by Noel Pearson, then the fallout between Noel Pearson and Nigel Scullion. There is a serious lack of communication with the IAG on all these proposals and initiatives.
- Members feel they are now no more than public stunt, a ruse.

Linda Burney delivers a scathing assessment of Tony Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council

“It’s like a secret society but it has no legitimacy”
by National Indigenous Times reporter, Geoff Bagnall

The NAIDOC Person of the Year and Deputy Leader of the New South Labor Party, Linda Burney has launched a scathing attack on the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council describing it as “like a secret society which would never have any legitimacy”.

Ms Burney, a proud Wiradjuri woman and highly respected throughout Australia as a First Peoples leader, said the Warren Mundine-led Advisory Council was being seen as “the group rubber-stamping some of the most regressive things I have seen in Aboriginal affairs for 30 years”.

While a raft of First Nations leaders called for the IAC to resign in last week’s National Indigenous Times, Ms Burney said she was “ambivalent” about that course of action.

“If they want to continue and be seen as a rubber stamp then that is their call but it is not a legitimate group and it is not representative of the First Peoples,” she said.

Ms Burney said the core problem for the Advisory Council was it had been appointed and not elected.

“It has a very poor reputation within the community, it is not representative and in the Aboriginal community for something to be legitimate and to be held in high esteem it has to be representative and it’s not,” she said.

Ms Burney said when the Advisory Council started out there were “high hopes” from some sections of the broader community there would be positive steps taken to address the disparity confronting First Nations People but it was now apparent it had been sidelined by the Abbott Government and by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott in particular.

“When this was first mooted Warren Mundine became the darling of the right and was incredibly listened to because he was the Chair of that group,” Ms Burney said.

“But when you have a look at it, it only meets, I think, three times a year.

“I don’t know that it’s having very much influence because they had Forrest do the employment report, which just seemed bizarre to me but it happened.

“You’ve got a whole lot of other influences clearly within the Federal Government, other than that Advisory Council in relation to its Aboriginal policies and programmes,” Ms Burney said.

Ms Burney said another major problem facing the Advisory Council was the dissension which had broken out within its own ranks.

“I happen to know a lot of the views expressed publicly by Warren Mundine are certainly not the views of other members of the Advisory Council and in fact there are members of that Advisory Council who are very disturbed when Warren Mundine makes public comments because it is seen, and he allows it to be seen, as if he is speaking on behalf of all the members of the Advisory Council, which is not correct,” she said.

And there are still some in remote communities who think the Indigenous Advisory Council was elected and was representative. One Elder in the community where Mr Abbott is this week in East Arnhem Land asked the National Indigenous Times who voted for the Indigenous Advisory Council and who they represented.

The Elder was in disbelief when told no one got to vote for them and they only represent the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

“You can understand why people would automatically think they must have been elected because they have this aura of some big national group but I am yet to see anything that they’ve produced, I am yet to see minutes from meetings or anything public. It seems like a secret society,” Linda Burney said.