BAD AUNTY: The truth about the NT intervention and the case for an independent media

Open any newspaper, tune into any TV or radio station, and you’ll hear that the rise of the internet and social media has sent Australia’s Fourth Estate into serious decline. But the Australian media has been in decline for a very long time, argues CHRIS GRAHAM*. Social media has simply has made it a lot more obvious. In this special feature, we bring you the story of how the Northern Territory intervention was extended last month by the Gillard government for another decade with the support of the Liberals and Nationals, despite the fact the policy is failing badly. And it couldn’t have happened without the support of the nation’s media, one institution in particular. The ABC, also known as Aunty.

Self praise is no recommendation, so when television personality Tony Jones last year described ABC Lateline’s 2006 coverage of sexual violence in remote Northern Territory Aboriginal communities – reporting which led directly to the 2007 NT intervention – as among the best he’d ever seen, I was a little underwhelmed.

Jones, of course, is the former anchor of Lateline, now the face of the popular Q&A program.

My sense of unease wasn’t helped by the fact that Lateline’s coverage proved extremely popular with politicians.

Generally speaking, when conservatives get ‘excited’ about Aboriginal affairs, some blackfella somewhere in the country is going to get done over. But excited they got, and few more so than Dave Tollner, Country Liberal Party MP, and the Member for Fong Lim, in the Northern Territory parliament.

In my career, I’ve only ever had one encounter with Tollner. It was in Alice Springs in 2009, when the Northern Territory parliament moved south to Alice Springs for a session, to bring ‘democracy to the people’.

I sat directly behind Tollner throughout much of the proceedings, and for several days watched him surf Facebook on his laptop.

Occasionally, he’d leap to his feet to bag at the Opposition, only to sit down and resume his Facebook pursuits.

In fairness to Tollner, while his internet habits ultimately led to the website being banned during sittings of NT Parliament, he does have a more serious side.

In December 2011, Tollner appeared on the Q&A program, filmed in Darwin and hosted by Tony Jones.

After lamenting that there wasn’t a single hairdresser employed on either side of the Stuart Highway – evidence, apparently, that there was no economic development – he weighed in on the meaty topic of the Northern Territory intervention. Co-panellist and Central Australian Aboriginal leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks had suggested that government needed to engage properly with Aboriginal people, “not hunt us like dogs”.

Tony Jones invited a response from Tollner.

“Let’s put some things into context here Tony, and I do acknowledge your role in the intervention…” said Tollner.
A clearly pissed off Jones interrupted. “I had no role in the intervention, that was done by a government.”

“No, no, no, but it was your show that lifted the lid on many of the problems that occur in remote communities and I acknowledge that,” said Tollner.

“That led to the major inquiry that resulted in the Little Children Are Sacred report, so I do acknowledge your interest in this area.”

As with so many things that perennial class clown Tollner says, it drew laughter from the audience, although it had a distinctly cynical tone to it.

Of course, Jones is right. The NT intervention was a government policy. But Tollner was also partly correct. It was Lateline’s reporting that led directly to the Little Children Are Sacred report, a landmark inquiry into sexual violence in NT Aboriginal communities.

And it was the Little Children Are Sacred report on which the federal government relied to launch an unprecedented assault on the rights of the nation’s most disadvantaged people.

That, and the launch of their 2007 re-election campaign.


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  1. Posted July 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations to the Tracker for a report that holds the ABC to account.

    That the in-house media review show has yet to mention the controversy, at all, reflects a problem common across all media: a decreasing volume of resources to maintain professional standards and accountability.

    A “record boost” for ABC funding a year ago did not extend to news operations.

    Funny that.

    • P. Oliver
      Posted August 3, 2012 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      Great post Chris.

      Jason, the extra funding went to hair and makeup!

  2. Posted July 30, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Great article Chris. I remember watching your video presentations online on the same issue. I am waiting for an intervention (divine or not) or Royal Commission into the various Churches and recent the sexual abuse claims. Little Children are Sacred 2, the sequel?

    Let’s see what happens.

    • Chris Graham
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Jeremy. Am filing a piece on that very issue on Wednesday. Keep your eyes out :) Chris

  3. jim wills
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    The intervention is an easy distraction from other important issues. Just like US politicians create war when they want to distract the masses. This whole country is full of alcoholics and pedophiles, go to any church on any corner, there the sickos’ sit. Australian government is one of the most racist countries on the planet. Disgusting!!! The whole thing is about funnelling money and fat bureaucratic contracts into white systems hands. They don’t care about aboriginal kids, they care about grand standing. Where are the civil rights lawyers, if this shit happened in Canada or the states, there would be a line blocks long of lawyers fighting pro bono. Fu Australian government

  4. Posted July 31, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Thx for this Chris. Now off to get it around Facebook and Twitter – and of course on my blog, The Network

  5. John
    Posted July 31, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  6. Victoria Whitelaw
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    I have had very good haircuts at the hairdressers on the Eastern side of the Stuart Highway In Tennant Creek. And very good coloring job and styling at Hoppy’s , not directly on Highway but not far west from it in Northside Alice Springs.

  7. Carolyn (vic/east)
    Posted August 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Well done Tracker, great read.
    The media needs to start to report things properly and professionally, and if not they should be held accountable.
    All media, across all states, needs to depict the real Australia. We need to see on the media daily – all the cultures/races/colours from everywhere including my Aboriginal culture. We need all cultures depicted in all shows and when this is done and it is shown in every home and is the norm……ah the serenity!

  8. Penny Campton
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. More than ever before we need good investigative journalism to counteract the growing shock jock crap the mainstream media (including Auntie) have been delivering. Great read.

  9. brownstar
    Posted November 5, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Great work Chris. Australia has the most biased and racist media in the world. Its even funny that the ABC one of the supposed left-wing alternative in Australia is getting no better. All the commercial networks will never show a balanced story on the Northern Territory intervention. The only way our media could be balanced is to have aboriginal journalists, news presenters, and so on who can give us a better insight into whats happening in there communities. I also notice that many news/current affairs program will only interview white politicians, public servants, and academics rather than aboriginal leaders, elders, community members, so on. You couldn’t get any more pathetic journalism than asking urban white people there anthropological views on remote aboriginal communities. Our media is so anglo-Australian controlled and owned that it feels so refreshing when you guys from “the tracker” and shows like “Living Black” can present an aboriginal angle that is more favourable on your issues.

  10. Alex_D
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Great article! I whole-heartedly endorse it. Keep up the good work.
    When will people realise that European settlement brought absolutely nothing to this country and that it was the Indigenous Nations that kept Australia afloat for the last 100,000 years?

  11. Posted March 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Well done partner that’s very good

  12. Posted March 15, 2013 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Great article as always and definitely agree completely about the Aussie media !

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] the rest of the article here - Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInStumbleUponEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  2. By Linkspam – sadly not on holidays edition on August 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    [...] Chris Graham at Agenda Tracker has detailed a very damming piece regarding the ABC’s role in the creation of the Intervention in Indigenous communities, especially Lateline’s role in “BAD AUNTY: The truth about the NT intervention and the case for an independent media“. [...]

  3. […] was responsible for a lot of the reporting of this story, and I’d recommend you read this piece in Tracker Magazine to get the full […]

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