WE ALL HAVE TO OBEY LAW
DURING my time in Canberra, I used to drive past the place that’s called the Aboriginal Tent Embassy most days as I headed up the hill to work.
Then and now it consists of sheds made from rusty corrugated tin, abandoned shipping containers, tents, political banners, fires in 44-gallon drums and rubbish underfoot. It occupies a once open lawn area in a direct line of sight that stretches from the Australian War Memorial in the north, across the lake, to Old Parliament House and ending at the current home of our federal parliament.
Established in 1972 to highlight the land rights cause, the laws have changed yet the tip that this political statement has now become still exists and last week, activists extended their claim to the recently vacated Lobby restaurant nearby.
Posting up notices announcing Aboriginal sovereignty and demanding $7 million in “back rent”, this latest campaign by professional indigenous activists and the Left-wing flotsam and jetsam of assorted other causes that gets caught up in these sort of protests does nothing to ease Aboriginal disadvantage.
This crowd is not the people who do the hard yards in remote communities trying to get kids to school or patch up the lives ruined by domestic violence.
I can’t ever recall them walking up the hill to see the prime minister to talk about a way forward on alcoholism in indigenous communities or the creation of sustainable jobs so indigenous youth might break the cycle of multi-generational welfare.
No, their stock in trade is symbolism, empty protest and posturing and to see the kid-glove treatment of “negotiation” last week, rather than immediate eviction from the Lobby, is just the latest example of where the about 100 protesters from Tent Embassy tried to break into the building while then prime minister Julia Gillard and then opposition leader Tony Abbott were inside presenting emergency services medals.
The trouble was directed against Abbott for allegedly wanting to shut the embassy down on its 40th anniversary. Only that’s not what he’d said. It turned out that a Gillard staffer had fed the rioters a distorted version so protests against Abbott might lead the Australia Day news bulletins.
Back then, the police response was robust. It’s a pity the same can’t be said now. According to the Lobby restaurant squatters, it’s not their occupation that’s illegal; the real trespassers, they say, are the people who came on to Aboriginal land in the first place.
We can see where this argument is leading. Aboriginal people should be able to help themselves to whatever they want because it’s really all theirs anyway.
No one can justly accuse modern Australia of not caring about Aboriginal people.
If anything, it’s a form of reverse racism that’s harming Aboriginal people today: the “tyranny of low expectations”, as Noel Pearson calls it, where youngsters are not expected to go to school and adults are not expected to go to work because what’s right for everyone else is somehow wrong for them.
You want to read a real story of the human spirit overcoming indigenous disadvantage?
Buy Warren Mundine’s new autobiography and in it you will see a way forward that’s about a shared responsibility for our collective future, rather than blame, partisan activism or the endless reopening of old wounds.
Indigenous and nonindigenous, we’re all Australians now and we all have to obey Australian law. PETA CREDLIN IS A SUNDAY HERALD SUN COLUMNIST