“Anonymous former youth worker” Gregory Andrews turned out to be a senior bureaucrat in Mal Brough’s own department.
Lateline’s Mutitjulu story was a ruse almost from start to finish. While it contained aspects of truth – that Aboriginal people were desperately poor; that Central Australian communities suffered significant levels of violence and abuse; that women and children in particular were vulnerable – the real devil was in the detail.
And to say it was lacking, doesn’t quite do justice to the level of misreporting.
The story began – and continued – with old file footage of Mutitjulu, and vision from other communities (including Roper River, 1,700km away), which was passed off as being from Mutitjulu.
Why? Because in the course of their major investigation into alleged sexual slavery in Mutitjulu, Lateline never once actually set foot in the community. What followed – the total collapse of Lateline’s story – was an almost inevitable consequence of that.
In its defence, Lateline has claimed it was denied entry into Mutitjulu by the community council – the very people who were the focus of Lateline’s allegations about protecting a predatory paedophile.
But the claim was dismissed by Parks Australia, managers of the National Park which surrounds Mutitjulu, which revealed that Lateline’s attempts to visit Mutitjulu was in fact a single phone call inquiring about filming in the Kata Tjuta National Park, with no explanation of what they intended to film, and no subsequent formal request from Lateline.
Lateline’s chief witness in the story was a ‘former youth worker’ who was once based in Mutitjulu, working in a joint community development project for the NT and federal governments.
He was interviewed at his new home on the outskirts of Canberra.
In order to protect his identity, the man’s face was filmed in shadow and his voice was digitized. There was, however, one fairly major hole in the story: he was never a youth worker. He was, in fact, Gregory Andrews, an Assistant Secretary in the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination who was advising Mal Brough specifically on violence and sexual abuse in remote Aboriginal communities.
Andrews was originally to have appeared in the Lateline story as ‘Gregory Andrews, government bureaucrat’. For reasons still unknown, he instead appeared anonymously.
And it’s under that cover of anonymity that things really went off track for Lateline.
Andrews wept openly on camera as he described how he’d made repeated statements and reports to police about sexual violence perpetrated against Aboriginal women and children during his time in Mutitjulu.
But, he claimed, he’d withdrawn those statements after being threatened by men in the community. He feared for his life, and that of his family.
NT Chief Minister Clare Martin later revealed in parliament that during his employment, Andrews never made a single report to police about violence against women or children.
His ‘withdrawn police statements’ weren’t the only part of his story that collapsed.
As government documents now reveal, prior to his interview Andrews provided Mal Brough a ministerial brief on what he intended to say to Lateline as a government representative.
He told the Minister that he would tell Lateline that there were predatory men in the central deserts region who were preying on children; and that things were so bad in the community that he saw women coming to meetings with broken arms.
But when Andrews appeared on camera with his face blacked out, the story changed markedly from the ministerial brief.
Andrews instead told Lateline this: “I saw women coming to meetings with broken arms, and with screwdrivers or other implements through their legs.”
And his claim that “there are predatory men in the central deserts who are systematically abusing young children” instead became “It’s true that there are predatory men in the central deserts who are systematically abusing young children.
“I’ve been told by a number of people of men in the region who go to other communities and get young girls and bring them back to their community and keep them there as sex slaves and… exchange sex for petrol with those young petrol sniffers.”
It’s pretty spectacular stuff, and all of it since dismissed by the Northern Territory police, and the Australian Crime Commission, both of which conducted extensive investigations into the allegations made by Andrews.
As publicity around Andrews’ real identity gathered pace, it emerged that he’d grossly mislead a Senate Inquiry into Petrol
Sniffing, giving evidence about Mutitjulu that made his Lateline embellishments look amateurish.
During his appearance before the Senate, Andrews told parliament that life in Mutitjulu was so bad that “children were hanging themselves from the church steeple on Sundays and their mothers were having to cut them down”.
It never happened. Not once.
Andrews also told the inquiry that he lived in Mutitjulu for nine months – he never lived in Mutitjulu a single day – and, most seriously, he misrepresented the findings of a coronial inquiry into a petrol sniffing death to federal parliament.
With the Labor Opposition circling, Andrews’ presence was requested before a Senate Estimates hearing, to explain himself. He became the first bureaucrat in parliamentary history to avoid the process on the grounds that he was “too stressed” to give evidence.
With Andrews’ story collapsing, Lateline claimed that the central interview in the report was not Andrews – after whose claims the headline was based – but that of a medical officer who served in the Mutitjulu community for several years.
Dr Geoff Stewart had appeared briefly in the story, and in a later lengthier interview with Jones. He too backed Lateline’s central theme – that men in the Mutitjulu community had created an environment where an elderly paedophile was able to rely on family connections to abuse children.
His story would also fall apart.
The health records of the elderly alleged paedophile at the centre of the story found their way into the public domain. The revelations contained within them are staggering.