Friday, 27 January 2012

The unruly scenes in Canberra yesterday

were pre-planned by a tiny minority of people. Those people do not, according to an indigenous friend who 'phoned me later, represent the majority or the thinking of the majority of indigenous people.
For those of you outside Australia who did not catch the news footage of our Prime Minister and Opposition leader being man-handled by security personnel out of the way of "protestors" I need to explain.
For forty years now there has been a "tent" embassy in Canberra. It was set up to protest the refusal of the government of the day to (instantly) recognise the "land rights" of indigenous Australians. The path towards that was, understandably, slow. Land rights took another twenty years. All students of constitutional law in Australia know about "the Mabo case".
The tent embassy should have folded then. The purpose for its existence had been achieved - although it was only the beginning of the still unfolding land rights issue.
Instead the "tent" embassy has remained as a political statement. It is, depending on your point of view a political statement, an eyesore or a tourist attraction. As a university student I was once in a group ordered not to get too close - although we were actually being shown something quite unrelated by an indigenous actor. He had no time for "them fools making fools of all of us".
Yesterday the protestors attempted to make fools of everyone, including their fellow indigenous Australians.
Someone at the embassy set up a member of the media to ask a question or two of the Opposition leader. It really did not matter what the questions were or how they were answered. The plan was to misinterpret the answers so as to accuse him of "racism" and descend on the restaurant at which an Australia Day awards ceremony for emergency services personnel was being held. The group was ready with placards and a plan of action. The media had been alerted that there was going to be a protest. Everyone fell neatly into line and the protestors got just what they were hoping for - massive publicity.
My indigenous friend was shaken. He had rung to tell me that he had, that very day, been given a letter offering work experience to a young indigenous student. I had given him the contact through which the offer had been made. His pleasure in the offer being made was overshadowed by events in Canberra.
"These sort of idiots set things back years," he told me, "How can we expect to have serious negotiations about anything when they behave like that? They are destroying the very respect that Tony Abbott (the Opposition Leader) complimented us on."
Yes, he offered a compliment and the protestors attempted to throw it back in his face. When asked if the "tent" embassy should be removed he did not say it must be he merely said, "Perhaps". If he had failed to answer they would have screamed "racist" and "coward". If he had said "Yes" they would also have screamed "racist". If he had said "No" they would have accused him of "not caring" and having done nothing for indigenous Australians. Whatever he answered would have been the "wrong" answer. No doubt they could have found similar fault with any answer given by the Prime Minister - but that would not have caused quite the same amount of controversy.
My indigenous friend is right when he says this sort of idiocy will harm relations. His mother, who was one of my closest friends until her death, would have been appalled. She believed in rights but she also believed you had to earn them. She never had any time for the "tent" embassy.
"They should get out of there and get on with the job," she used to say. I cannot help wondering what would have happened if her response had been given the same attention in the media. I doubt those protesting would have dared to stir from their seats.


Nicole MacDonald said...

Happens here in NZ too. Frustrating, dumb and seriously unhelpful. But those doing it don't care - they're not actually interested in helping the rest of their population, just themselves. Very sad in the long run.

Anonymous said...

If they had stirred from their seats Mum would have whipped them out from underneath them - and serve them right if they had fallen on their backsides. I have been fielding questions at work all morning and I am sick to death of it. Thanks for your support last night. Peter

Donna Hosie said...

This is a wonderful summary of the FACTS. Good job, cat.

A US friend facebooked a link to reporting in the US. It said the leaders were dining at a restaurant for the 1% and were rightly ambushed.

Utter garbage.

Anonymous said...

Hello Peter, Have not seen you in an age.I do wish your mother was still around to speak out!
Sadly, the flag burning today will just inflame the situation.
Cat, thanks for doing this. As Donna Hosie says, an excellent summary of the facts. Chris.