Let me begin by stating my unequivocal support for Aboriginal rights, equality, reconciliation, and the improvement of health, welfare, education, work and leisure opportunities for Indigenous people.
I’ve been to Canberra several times and I’ve seen the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. I think it’s an important reminder of how bad things used to be, and how much has yet to be done.
Is the Tent Embassy an untidy blot on the carefully manicured Canberra landscape? Yes, indeed. But our treatment and neglect of Indigenous Australians is a far more untidy blot on the carefully manicured historical landscape of this country. The Tent Embassy is an important symbol of that.
When we have taken so much from the traditional owners of this country, I think it is petty and churlish to deny them the right to their embassy. If politicians want the embassy dismantled, they should work harder (and smarter) to fix the problems it is there to remind them of!
That said, I am sickened and appalled at what appears to have been an attempt by some Aboriginal activists and their cohorts to bully and frighten Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday. Apparently, some intemperate remarks from Tony Abbott, earlier in the day, caused anger. As a result, a group of protestors decided to take their grievances to a restaurant where the politicians were dining. According to news reports, a group of approximately 200 angry agitators gathered outside the restaurant. Some banged on the glass sides of the restaurant building in sufficient numbers and with sufficient force to raise security concerns. Some activists chased the politicians’ car down the road, banging on its roof and bonnet while others threw plastic water bottles at the vehicle. Whether there was ‘actual’ violence is a moot point – a climate conducive to violence was created by the intimidatory and provocative action of trying to accost the Opposition Leader, using a disorganised protest at a public venue. I stand firm in condemning this.
I am no fan of Tony Abbott and I find his remarks about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy ill-timed, ill-considered and insensitive. I am also no fan of Julia Gillard or her party who appear to have given little but lip-service to Indigenous issues. Saying “sorry” was a grand and necessary gesture, but it was not followed with meaningful, practical action.
However, despite my strong sentiments in favour of the Indigenous antagonists in this melee, I simply cannot sit silent and implicitly support their actions yesterday. To be blunt, storming a restaurant, threatening the property of those not even involved in the dispute, frightening patrons who very likely support your cause, trying to make your point through physical intimidation and belligerent behaviour, and causing the Prime Minister of this country to cower in fear as she is rushed through a street brawl is thuggery pure and simple. I will not condone it with my silence.
Indigenous Australians have every reason to be angry. They have every reason to defend their embassy. But this is Australia and, whatever our history, whatever the mistakes of the past, here, today, we do not fight political battles with physical violence. I don’t care whether you’re black or white. I don’t care what your grievance is. This is not how we do things in this country and unless those of us who support social equity, progress and human rights stand up and condemn this action, we are a part of the problem.
I do not ever want to see an Australian Prime Minister (or any other person), male or female, having to be dragged from a building in fear again. I don’t care what your cause may be; this is not the way to address it. No matter how angry you are, no matter how provoked you feel you have been, you do your cause no favours by resorting to mob violence (and, yes, the threat of violence is still violence in my book).
I live by the maxim:
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
What happened yesterday was good people with a good cause doing evil. And I will not stay silent.
See also Australia Day by Mike Stuchbery, the sentiments of which I heartily endorse –
Extract: “You can sit me down and discuss radical means of action. You can talk to me all you want about not falling into line with the hegemony, that you’re not there to look good for the cameras.
Fact is, you’re in Canberra. It’s Australia Day. The focus, whether you like it or not, is on you. Any aggro and there will be newsvans down there within minutes to provide fodder for a fortnight’s frenzied headlines.
Use your bloody heads, as well as your hearts.”