Much Ado About Nothing


The Oz‘s breathless "expose" – that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin and her party had stayed on a boat during a recent visit to the western Cape York Indigenous community of Aurukun – appears to have spawned a cottage industry.

"Macklin opts for luxury in Aurukun" huffed the national broadsheet’s front page on what must have been a slow news day last week. Instead of staying the night in the community’s "basic eight-room guesthouse behind razor wire" the Minister’s mob camped on the MV Pikkuw – a ’boutique fishing charter boat’. In doing so she "passed up the opportunity to learn first-hand about conditions in one of the nation’s most troubled indigenous communities after dark," according to The Oz.

This beat-up got the belting it deserved from National Indigenous Times editor, Chris Graham, in Crikey, after which common sense would have dictated that the Pikkuw non-story be allowed to sink unspectacularly into the depths of Davey Jones’ locker.

But it was not to be. On Monday night, Media Watch stepped into the fray and we had to endure more discussion about the cost of a berth on the boat, and the different price structures for accommodation on the vessel, depending on whether it was moored in Aurukun, or actually on charter.

Aboriginal Australia is in crisis and we’re talking boats?

It doesn’t matter one whit whether the Minister slept in a swag or a suite during her visit to Aurukun. Surely we don’t want Ministers to be method actors? Spare us a reheated parliamentary version of the hijinx of Hollywood heroes who forgo their penthouse paradises and Bolivian marching powder to spend three days in a prison so that they can find out what it’s really like.

Let’s judge the value of Macklin’s visit on her capacity to come up with policy that will lift the Cape communities out of grinding poverty and despair.

Because, despite the best efforts of Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute, and of corporates like the Boston Consulting Group and Westpac, there is little evidence of improvement in these communities. Hopes that this investment would yield strategies to alleviate the problems, not only of Cape York, but of other Indigenous communities around the country, have not been realised.

But the fourth estate also needs to lift its game. Perhaps it’s time for a moratorium on "remote community exposes" from fly-in, fly-out Walkley hunters who return with stunning photos of cute black kids with big eyes, and stark narratives exposing the cruel hardships of day-to-day existence in these remote locations. We know. We know. We know.

How many times can these tragedies be highlighted in the name of "public interest"? Isn’t there a point at which journalism becomes voyeurism? Couldn’t we have a bit more analysis, examining why things have gone so wrong and assessing the merits of the posited panaceas? Can’t we be spared The Oz‘s "bad news from Black Australia" page once in a while?

If Minister Macklin enjoyed her stay on what is allegedly a "spacious, modern, comfortable, custom-built vessel with accommodation for up to eight passengers" then good luck to her. But what is her policy prescription for the rescue of Indigenous Australia?

That is the story.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.