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Countering Graham Richardson's Balgo claims

  • 28 August 2017


Early last year Graham Richardson wrote a piece in The Australian headed 'Alan Jones isn't racist, he wants Aboriginal kids to be safe'. He wrote about a trip he had once made to the 'extremely remote' Balgo community in the Kimberley, where, he said, he discovered the prevalence of child sexual assault.

He returned to that topic earlier this month. In an article titled 'Richo takes on Noel Pearson over indigenous constitutional recognition', he wrote: 'My real failure was to ignore the horrendous tales of child sexual abuse at Balgo. I beat myself up every day over this. I had been too gutless to risk being labelled racist.'

What caught my attention in his original article was reference to the trip he had made as Federal Health Minister to remote Northern Territory and West Australian communities in late 1993. As part of that trip he visited Balgo. He wrote: 'At the town meeting I noticed that the only attendees were women and children and some very old men.'

Some 23 years ago I did not think I was then a very old man, but I was present at that community meeting. I was living at Balgo at the time and was the parish priest. It was Saturday 22 January 1994. His comments have drawn me back to my own notes and the weekly parish newsletter of that time.

My understanding is that Senator Graham Richardson (pictured front right) flew in for a brief community meeting — after visiting a number of other Aboriginal communities — along with another ten people, including a journalist and photographer. It was summer and the weather had been very hot (in the 40s), school had not yet begun for the year and the meeting was on a Saturday afternoon. I was not surprised then that not many people attended and few had travelled in from three outlying communities.

The people of the region had never met Richardson before. Meetings planned for Saturday afternoons in the desert summer tend not to be taken too seriously unless they are extremely well prepared. The weekend store closes for the weekend at Saturday lunchtime. People weren't going to wait around in the heat for a meeting with someone they didn't know. It was not a long meeting. The visiting group flew in and out the same day.

Richardson wrote: 'When I inquired about where the men were I was told they were at home and drunk.