Bob Gosford writes from Yuendumu
With tears in his eyes Bill Heffernan rose to his feet in the Senate last night told his fellow Senators and the Australia public that,
"I went to Yuendumu and discovered within 20 minutesof being there who was running the drugs at theschool. I went to Mount Theo, which is the removalcamp for the petrol sniffers and, within an hour, I discoveredthat one of the key managers there was havingsex with all the kids. When I came back to Canberra, Irang the policeman at Yuendumu and said that I hadbeen there for a day, told him what was going on in thetown, and described all of these dreadful bloody thingsthat were going on there. I said, ‘What are you going todo about it?’ He said, ‘I just want to get out of here,Senator.’ He was not interested."
Heffernan’s comments are a shocking account of a community whose youth have lost their way and a government-funded program fundamentally flawed and corrupted by sexual predation that all Australians would.
It was all lies (link to Mt Theoheffernan response word document).
Despite the implication in his speech to the Senate that he’d been in Yuendumu in September 2006, Heffernan was last here in 2001 – 6 years ago. He flew into Yuendumu early in the morning with the then Indigenous Affairs Minister, Phillip Ruddock and drove out to Mt Theo, a small outstation community 160 km north-west of Yuendumu. They spent the day there, talked to the people running the petrol-sniffing rehabilitation programs and returned to Yuendumu, where they had a barbecue with locals. They flew out early the next day.
Bill Heffernan knows a fair bit about the program at MT Theo. In June 2006, at the tabling of the Beyond Petrol Sniffing: Renewing Hope for Indigenous Communities report he publicly congratulated Mt Theo staff on their hard work and the success of the program. He repeated his praise in a private meeting later that day. At no time did he mention the serious allegations raised by him last night in the Senate.
Otto Jungarrayi Sims is a long-standing committee member of the Mt Theo Program (http://www.mttheo.org/home.htm) and traveled to Mt Theo with Heffernan and Ruddock in 2001 and remembers that day well.
Crikey spoke to Jungarrayi at the Mt Theo office in Yuendumu earlier today,
“Both Bill Heffernan and Phillip Ruddock had nothing but good things to say the program at Mt Theo. After his visit Phillip Ruddock gave us money so that we could replace the sheds at Mt Theo with proper facilities.
“I can’t understand why Bill Heffernan would say these bad things about Mt Theo and Yuendumu when he knows they are not true. Bill has been very supportive of Mt Theo in the past. If he knew of these things six years ago he should have spoken to me or the other people here and we would have investigated them and talked to the Police. But nothing. He didn’t say anything to me about these things when he was here.
“It is really hurtful to me and our community when people like Bill Heffernan tell lies about us like this. This is the wrong story and Bill Heffernan should tell the right story. He owes all the people at Mt Theo and here at Yuendumu an apology.”
Heffernan also owes an apology to the Senate.
Tomorrow is a big day in Yuendumu. The founders of the Mt Theo program, Peggy Nampijinpa Brown, Johnny Japangardi Miller and Andrew Stojanovski will be presented with the country’s highest honour in recognition of their years of hard work at Mt Theo. The Administrator of the Northern Territory will present each of them with an Order of Australia medal (http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/awards/medals/order_of_australia.cfm#significance).