Unity should replace a 45-year-old protest
DURING my time in Canberra, I used to drive past the place called the Aboriginal Tent Embassy most days as I headed up the hill to work.
Then and now it consists of sheds made from corrugated tin, abandoned shipping containers, tents, political banners, fires in 44 gallon drums and rubbish. It occupies a 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 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 this week activists extended their claim to the recently vacated Lobby Restaurant nearby.
This latest campaign by professional indigenous activists and the left-wing flotsam and jetsam of assorted other causes does nothing to ease Aboriginal disadvantage. This crowd are 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 jobs.
No, their stock in trade is empty protest and to see the kid glove treatment of “negotiation” this week, rather than immediate eviction from the Lobby, is just the latest example of where Canberra bureaucrats have got it wrong on indigenous issues.
The Australian Parliament has more indigenous members and senators than any time in our history. None are there on a quota; all have won their seat standing against all comers in a democratic race that’s fairness itself. We should celebrate their contribution not just as blackfellas making laws for blackfellas but as blackfellas making laws for all of us. Isn’t this a great example of Australia’s progress, 50 years on from the referendum that changed the law to recognise indigenous Australians?
I don’t shy away from the fact that British settlement dispossessed the original inhabitants, and that many laws from that time and beyond increased their dislocation, and caused suffering, family breakdown and economic hardship.
My English-Irish ancestors also suffered dispossession. Before activists get hysterical, I am not claiming cultural equivalency but we can all go back to past generations and find wrongs committed.
When people talk about the stolen generations for example, I always remember the women who suffered under forced adoption practices in this country and see a similar pain that extends beyond skin colour.
Acknowledging the past doesn’t mean we should be endlessly apologising for modern Australia; or, out of misplaced guilt, allowing Aboriginal people to take liberties that wouldn’t be extended to others, like officials turning a blind eye to a shanty-style eyesore in our nation’s capital or elders breaking into a building and basically squatting.
This is not the first time Aboriginal activists have mobilised against the Lobby restaurant. On Australia Day 2012, about 100 protesters from 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. A Gillard staffer had fed the rioters a distorted version so protests against Abbott might lead 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 squatters, it’s not their occupation that’s illegal; the real trespassers are the people who came onto 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 autobiography and in it you will see a way forward that’s about a shared responsibility for our future, rather than the endless reopening of old wounds.
Indigenous and non-indigenous, we’re all Australians now and we all have to obey Australian law.
The people of Australia who showed they did want their say on the issue of same-sex marriage with a nearly 80 per cent response to the survey. The result will be released at 10am on Wednesday.
The Mickey Mouse show and tell, rather than a proper independent audit, won’t solve the citizenship mess. Instead it only further drags down the reputation of politicians after a bleak 10 years of factional infighting, changing PMs and self-interest.
talks to protesters at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the early