Actually, I had planned to put out an essay last Thursday—Australia Day, commemorating the 224th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove. I had planned to tell you how happy I was to live in what I regard as the greatest nation on earth. How, despite all its problems, many of which I have detailed at great length on this site, Australia still affords its citizens a greater chance of liberty, and a degree of control over their own lives and the potential to pursue their own happiness by their own efforts, than just about any other country on the face of the earth. I wanted to express to you my own pride at being a living, working part of Australian society, with our inherent laid-back egalitarianism, our friendly acceptance of each other irrespective of national or racial background, our preference to pursue national rivalries on the sporting field rather than the battlefield, and even our willingness to send our nation’s finest into harm’s way when we believed the peace of the world to be threatened.
Those are the things I feel, the things I believe. I still do. But this year, Australia Day raised an ugly spectre of a past that refuses to die.
Some background first. I assume you’re all aware in a general sense that many advances have been made throughout Australia’s history, particularly over the last half-century, to redress the disposession and subsequent social dislocation of our Aboriginal population. What you may not know is that prior to a referendum in 1967, passed overwhelmingly by the voters of this country, our constitution did not even count Aborigines in the census, accord them citizenship, or give them (until 1962) the vote in Federal elections.
Even following the 1967 amendments to the constitution, many injustices remained. The legal doctrine of terra nullius (the assumption that the Australian continent was sovereign to no people at the time of white settlement) was not overturned until the High Court’s 1992 Mabo decision; prior to this, Aboriginal people who had continuously occupied lands throughout the period of white settlement had no claim of title upon them, and were thus formally dispossessed under the law.
To this day, disparities remain that are an open sore in our society, and perhaps our greatest source of national shame; Aborigines are an order of magnitude more likely to be imprisoned, have life expectancies decades shorter than the rest of our society; I have written previously on this site about the well-intentioned but disastrous social engineering attempts to herd a nomadic people into fixed outback settlements, far from any source of employment, resulting in virtually complete societal breakdown (of which I can’t even bring myself to give you any details, it’s just too terrible; follow the links if you really want to know), resulting in over-late, drastic counter-measures by later governments—yet more state-imposed social engineering, and equally doomed to fail.
It was in this climate of clear injustice that, in 1972, a small group of activists created the Aboriginal tent embassy on the front lawn of the Old Parliament House in Canberra, where it has remained, on and off, for nearly forty years now. Originally seen as a national focal point for indigenous protest, by 2012 it has decayed into something of an anachronism, or even an embarrassment, peopled as it is today by the more lunar fringe of Aboriginal rights protesters, and facing calls for its dismantling, even by many Aboriginal leaders, including the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the lands about Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory.
Last Thursday, Australia Day, both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott were attending a formal luncheon near Parliament House at which were being presented bravery awards to those who had been involved in the rescue efforts following the 2011 Queensland floods. The event was barely under way when the glass-walled structure in which it was being held was surrounded by a large group of protesters who had made their way over from the tent embassy. Amid shouting, banging of fists and throwing of objects against the walls, Gillard’s personal security team intervened. Gathering Gillard and Abbott, and surrounded by Federal Police officers in full riot gear, they ploughed through the crowd; the images of a terrified Gillard, one shoe missing, man-handled into her car beside Abbott were flashed around the world’s media.
I have no time for Gillard at all, as I’ve made abundantly clear on this site many times. She came to her office unelected, the result of a sleazy back-room factional deal, an office she retained by means of a blatant lie to the Australian electorate. I believe she is doing everything within her power to drag my country the way of Europe and America, to become the ultimate slaves of the bankster-enviro-nazi nexus.
But the fact remains, she is my democratically elected Prime Minister, and what befell her that day is an absolute disgrace. I’m also enough of a dinosaur to be outraged that our first female Prime Minister, in particular, was subjected to such an indignity. I’m sure that such a thing would never have been allowed to happen to an elected head of government in Britain or the United States.
But even that isn’t what sticks in my gullet the most. No, the truly ugly aspect of this year’s Australia Day débâcle is the way in which it came to occur. Details were sketchy at first, but are becoming clearer with each passing day, and the lines of evidence are pointing ever upward.
Earlier in the day, Tony Abbott was asked by an ABC journalist, out of the blue, a most curiously-worded question: Mr Abbott, today is also the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy in Canberra. Do you think it’s still relevant, or should it move? Abbott’s response was both innocuous and to the point:
Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as prime minister. We had the proposal, which is currently for national consideration, to recognise indigenous people in the constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian, and, yes, I think a lot’s changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.
That’s it, word for word. But we now know that a junior staffer from Gillard’s own office, one Tony Hodges, placed a call to Canberra unionist Kim Sattler, who is Aboriginal herself and has functioned for some time as an unofficial go-between, from the government to the tent embassy. Hodges relayed to Sattler, who then passed to the activists, both the fact of the Abbott interview and the details of Abbott’s movements that day. Versions of the story diverge at this point; Hodges (who has now resigned his position) and Sattler both claim they transmitted Abbott’s words verbatim; yet according to this story, it is clear that Sattler told the tent embassy activists that Abbott “wanted the tent embassy torn down”; Sattler is alleged to have urged the activists to go to the official luncheon and “liven things up”. From the Tim Blair story linked,
If someone in this chatter-chain had paused to review Abbott’s gentle comments, perhaps trouble might have been avoided. Well, maybe not in the case of the tent embassy’s more excitable inhabitants, who would probably be provoked to screaming rage by the opposition leader quoting Enid Blyton. But what excuse can be offered by relatively senior political operatives, with their access to the latest devices?
The media have even fewer excuses. A YouTube clip shot by tent embassy supporters last Thursday shows Ten reporter Amanda Hart at the protest being advised by an activist: “Don’t forget to say that Tony Abbott asked for the tent embassy to be shut down.”
Sure enough, on Ten’s 5pm bulletin, Hart’s piece included this line: “The protest was launched by Aborigines from the nearby Aboriginal tent embassy, sparked by Tony Abbott who said the embassy, now in its 40th year, should be shut down.”
There, in one hit, is laid bare both the media’s hypocrisy and blatant political bias, not to mention hints of this whole thing being planned from higher up yet. The Federal Opposition are calling for a full inquiry into the affair, and blogger Andrew Bolt has a list of pertinent questions he would like to see that inquiry ask.
The political implications are wider still. As expected, following the tawdry Slipper affair last December, Labor have gone back on their written agreement with Tasmanian independent MHR Andrew Wilkie, who now says he will henceforth support government legislation on a case-by-case basis only, but will support a no-confidence motion only in the case of severe misconduct. But according to this story in yesterday’s Australian, Wilkie appears to believe that if senior government figures lie behind the events of Australia Day, deliberately provoking a race riot for political purposes, it would in fact constitute such misconduct. Slipper, who would then have the casting vote in a no-confidence motion before the House, would hardly support Labor in such a circumstance (as he has nothing left to gain or lose by doing so), leaving the Gillard government, and probably the entire Australian Labor movement with it, one raised hand away from oblivion, possibly permanently.
Sigh. I’m still proud to be an Australian. I really am. But there are times, like this one, when I just want to close the doors, turn off the internet, and not come out again until I can see at least a glimmer of the antipodean sunshine I believe to be my birthright.