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Issue #1534      8 February 2012

Disrespect sparks anger

The current media attention of who said what to incite a riot near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy removes focus of the true issue at hand: the fact that neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott came down to the Embassy to commemorate the historical event of its 40th anniversary. Having been down in Canberra myself, it saddened me to see Elders talking to a blue suede shoe instead of to our Prime Minister.

Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader were invited to attend, they were in proximity, yet did not attend. To me, the obvious absence of both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott at the Embassy on January 26 represents the lack of importance given to the role Indigenous Elders share as Australian leaders. As an Australian citizen, I felt their absence was immensely disrespectful and is the true shame.

I can personally attest that the 40th anniversary celebrations were on the whole very peaceful. Not once did I feel threatened or scared for my own personal safety. Everyone was welcoming and respectful. People may not have agreed on every issue but a safe space was created to discuss, learn and share. As a middle class, educated, white Australian young woman, I found this experience invaluable. Sitting around a campfire or sharing a cup of tea, I learnt more about Australian Aboriginal people and culture that I could have ever learnt from history books. I listened to stories from Elders and supporters from all around Australia. This is what Gillard and Abbott missed out on.

Why did our Australian political leaders not attend this event? I invite our leaders to provide an explanation. The Prime Minister was angered that the events disrupted such a wonderful event for great people referring to the emergency services medal ceremony. With all due respect to the award recipients and their heroic contributions to the state, I wish to highlight that there was another ceremony occurring just next door commemorating equally courageous people whose work also ought to be recognised: the original founders of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

Abbott’s comments that a lot has changed since then [1972], and “I think it probably is time to move on from that” were received like a slap to the face. I think the Indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian, stated Abbott.

By simply looking at the original demands of the four embassy founders, we can see that very little advancement has been made in terms of sovereignty and control of Aboriginal land and people. Mining continues on sacred sites. Black deaths in custody are still occurring 20 years on from the Royal Commission.

Pick up any Australian medical journal and you will see that health inequality continues. A second intervention in the Northern Territory is about to be launched that would take financial support away from families whose children are not attending school, instead of looking at the real causes, the material obstructions remote families may face from accessing education or even the disconnect in the education system and the traditional way of life.

The government chooses to remove basic human rights, instead of empowering and supporting its First People. How can we expect Aboriginal Australia to advance forward if constant obstacles are created out of ignorance and are constantly placed in front of progress?

So long as there is a lack of respect from mainstream Australia towards the original owners, so long as discrimination and institutionalised racism continues, so long as the general public is largely unaware of the true daily reality of hardship that many Indigenous Australians continue to face, so long as grief and loss of Aboriginal rights, land, culture and people is still in living memory, I feel that the Tent Embassy has every right to remain on the lawns in front of Old Parliament House, and that as an institution, remains every bit relevant in contemporary Australia.  

Next article – What does Libya tell us about intervention in Syria and Iran?

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