Thursday, 27 March 2008

The last act of Orkopoulos: skewering the Darkinjung

The murky story of former NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos, who is awaiting sentence on 28 sex and drug charges, is becoming murkier.

One of his last ministerial decisions was to sign, just before midnight – and seven hours prior to his arrest – an instrument to appoint a handpicked administrator for the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council on the NSW Central Coast.

Without evidence of impropriety or the misappropriation of a single cent, the Darkinjung mob were shut down on a legal technicality and watched their hopes for a new beginning go up in smoke.

Their plans to use their own money - $42 million raised from the sale of a piece of valuable property at The Entrance to Mirvac - to create a better life for their community by starting commercial business enterprises have been dashed.

The projects were based on the best legal, financial and commercial advice available and they had even won acclaim and awards for their initiative.

So what was their "crime"? According to government officials who briefed a local MP after the administrator's appointment they were "too far ahead of their time".

As Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Orkopoulos, who represented the neighbouring Hunter seat of Swansea, played a wilful and shameful role in the legal and bureaucratic attack on the Darkinjung people. Whereas his role as minister and local MP should have been protector, custodian and supporter, the left-wing MP put in the boot.

His successor Reba Meagher took an initial interest in the land council scandal and then dropped off when it all looked too hard. The new minister, Paul Lynch, is a former industrial lawyer and civil rights campaigner who could do something to right the wrongs committed against the Darkinjungs but there is no sign that he will take up the cudgels as he would, say, for Sinn Feiners or the Sandinistas.

Meanwhile, the federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin seems to have decided that her best option is to stay well away from the NSW issue.

On the surface, the NSW Labor Government promotes Aboriginal self-development but the Darkinjung story shows what happens to uppity blackfellas who want to redeem themselves and get ahead like the white folk.

Their cattle, housing and job training projects have been wound up on the say-so of a minister who has been found guilty of heinous crimes against teenagers, giving them heroin and other drugs in return for sex.

If ever there was a case that deserved executive action to put right, a full judicial inquiry or public hearings by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) this is it. Instead, it’s heading for a spot under the carpet or a perpetual burial place on the the Supreme Court law list.

As the late Xavier Herbert wrote: “Poor fella, my country.”

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