The truth behind the Tent Embassy “riots”

Greens Senator Scott Ludlum and I at the Tent Embassy protests on Australia Day

This Australia Day I was proud to be in Canberra to stand in solidarity with my Aboriginal brothers and sisters and celebrate 40 years of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.  I was shocked by the disgusting political trickery and media scuttlebutt that surrounded the events there.

The tent embassy was established in the early hours of January 27th 1972 in protest at Liberal Prime Minister William McMahon’s shameful refusal to grant Aboriginal people land rights.  There has been little genuine progress in the field of land rights since then and the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in terms of life expectancy, education, employment and a whole range of other factors is still shamefully large to this day. 

It is for this reason that the tent embassy has stood on and off for 40 years and for this reason that when the insensitive comments by opposition leader Tony Abbott about it being “time to move on” were reported to the crowd of demonstrators (after being twisted to become even more insensitive) many of them were outraged.

It is also for this reason that the crowd decided to take their protest to Abbott himself when they were informed, by a union boss, that the opposition leader was nearby.  I find it highly offensive that the media has described the protest as a “riot” when it reached the Lobby restaurants where both Abbott and Prime Minister Gillard were.  It was loud and passionate but certainly not violent – I wonder if a group of middle aged white people protesting against the carbon tax would have been described in such a way.

It is also extremely disappointing that Abbott and Gillard both ran from the protestors.  They should have shown leadership and come out and addressed the crowd and listened to their concerns.  It was incredibly hypocritical for the Prime Minister to give an acknowledgment of Country but then fail to properly acknowledge the concerns of the First Australians.

While the media may find in easy to run with the narrative of a group of Aboriginal protestors becoming a disorganised rabble in this case the disorganisation and cowardice clearly came from our so called “leaders”.  We have the right to expect better.


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