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Amanda Vanstone: The raider of the ‘lost’ art

By Brian Johnstone - posted Tuesday, 15 March 2005

It’s official - Amanda Vanstone stole Geoff Clark’s art. And the Australian media got it all wrong. And ... well, you get the picture. It’s just another day in Aboriginal Affairs .

Meanwhile the web delivered the news. The Dean of Gonzo journalism was dead. God rest the tortured soul of Hunter S. Thompson.

You have probably come across those little newspaper fillers where people are asked which three people they’d most like to invite to dinner. I’ve always answered Hunter, Hunter and Hunter. He inspired political journalists around the world and anyone vaguely familiar with his works will know why. Tom Wolfe once tipped his hat to Hunter in this way: “There are only two adjectives that writers care about anymore, ‘brilliant’ and ‘outrageous’ ... Hunter Thompson has a freehold on both of them.” Amen.


Sadly I never met the man. Perhaps we’ll hook up in the hereafter. I’d like to think so. You always have to have something to look forward to. If you have not already done so, do yourself a favour, and read Better than Sex, Confessions of a Political Junkie. It’s soaked in the brilliance and outrage which marked all of his works. No-one can afford to ignore any writer who can describe a politician as having the “loyalty of a lizard with its tail broken off ...” The book starts by citing Amendment IV to the US Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.

There is no home-grown Hunter, more’s the pity.

I wonder what he would have made of this, when read alongside Amendment IV. There’s certainly a touch of the gonzo about Aboriginal Affairs of late. On January 23 this year ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark stupidly made (or took) a phone call from Tony Koch of The Australian newspaper. Koch had clearly been given the tip from inside Government that the ATSIC Board was seeking to obtain legal advice on the disposal of its assets, ahead of its abolition.

An article subsequently appeared in The Australian the following day. It was headed, “ATSIC’s abolition sell off”. The first paragraph stated, “ATSIC Commissioners plan to sell some of the agency’s $8 million in property and assets, including a $3 million collection of Indigenous art to fund a legal battle with the Howard Government”.

Four paragraphs of the 12 par story were given over to Clark. Three contained direct quotes. All related to Clark criticising the Government for refusing to fund his travel to appear before the Senate Select Committee on the Administration of Aboriginal Affairs. The fourth and second last par in the story was an indirect quote. It said, “Mr Clark said legal advice was being sought on whether the assets could be sold”.


The final paragraph quoted a spokesman for Amanda Vanstone which said the Minister was “concerned that assets could be raided”. Nothing in the story supported the bald statement in the lead paragraph of a “plan” by ATSIC Commissioners to sell anything.

No other member of the ATSIC Board was quoted confirming or denying “the plan”. Clark does not speak for the Board, and Koch should know that. But his word was good enough for The Australian, the very newspaper which consistently portrays him in its editorials columns as a thoroughly discredited leader.

Go figure.

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First published in The National Indigenous Times, issue 75.

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About the Author

Brian Johnstone is a columnist for the National Indigenous Times. He was Director of Media and Marketing at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission between April 1998 and December 2002. Before taking up that position he was a senior advisor to former Federal Labor Minister, Senator Bob Collins, and a senior correspondent with Australian Associated Press.

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