Sunday Herald Sun - - OPINION -

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

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