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Senatorial surveillance - when near enough is way too close

By Graham Ring - posted Thursday, 22 March 2007

The more progressive occupants of the plush red benches of the Upper House provide a last line of defence against the Federal government's mistreatment of black Australia.

In days of yore, ALP senator John Faulkner was the master inquisitor. During Senate estimates hearings, Faulkner used to eat public servants for breakfast. It was a joy to watch senior bureaucrats attempt to fend off the incisive attacks of the Labor Senate leader's velvet-gloved fists.

The objects of his attention would often show all the composure of Bogart's Captain Queeg in Mutiny on the Bounty, as the mariner nervously twiddled his marbles, looking ready to come unstuck at any moment.


In mid-February the hacks again gathered to the fray for the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Additional Budget estimates. No fewer than 44 senior public servants were on hand at this bunfight to help the committee untangle the administrative spaghetti. At least I presume that was their role.

Legendary Aussie Rules football commentator Jack Dyer was a hard man who felt that “what happened on the ground should stay on the ground”. He thought tribunals were for wimps and would refuse to “dob in” evil-doers during his radio calls. Scenes of carnage on the field were invariably greeted with Dyer chortling that "I better not say anything in case I say something".

It seems that Dyer's Dictum is also embraced by some witnesses at Senate estimates hearings - despite assurances from the committee chair that they cannot be put in the stocks and pilloried with rotten fruit regardless of what they say.

ALP Senator Trish Crossin bravely attempted to extract some sort of accountability from the government for its grievous neglect of the large Northern Territory remote community of Wadeye. The futility of seeking blood from a stone was writ large during this exchange between Crossin and OIPC boss Wayne Gibbons:

Senator Crossin: The tripartite steering committee, I take it, has not met since the last estimates?

Mr Gibbons: I am not aware.


Senator Crossin: I think it is a “yes” or “no” answer.

Mr Gibbons: I do not think it has, Senator.

Senator Crossin: “No” then.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 124, on March 8, 2007.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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