The Violent Politics of Australia Day

The group of Aboriginal activists and their white supporters who set fire to Old Parliament House on December 30 were marking what will soon be the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the parliament’s grounds. They were emulating the degree of violence that took place at the same location on Australia Day in 2012 when demonstrators marked the fortieth anniversary of the Tent Embassy’s existence.

This is a point that none of our mainstream news media have so far chosen to make in their plainly subdued reports of this willful assault on such an important symbol of Australian democracy. Indeed, even The Australian let down its readers, claiming “The Tent Embassy was getting ready to celebrate 50 years of peaceful occupation of the site.” Its journalists said the incendiaries were motley outsiders, many of them white. The newspaper said there was “rising tension” between the long-time occupants of the tent embassy and “the new arrivals, many of them anti-vaxxers and ‘sovereign citizens’ who believe laws don’t apply to them”. However, let me remind Quadrant readers what happened on the fortieth anniversary and what the Tent Embassy occupants regard as acceptable political behaviour.

At 2pm on January 26 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott went to the Lobby Restaurant on King George Terrace, Canberra, just down the road from Old Parliament House, to present the National Emergency Medals. These awards are part of the Australian honours system and only given for exceptional action in protecting lives and property in direct response to events like the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009 and the Queensland floods and cyclones in 2010–2011. The ceremony is usually a dignified affair that the recipients of the medal and their families are proud to remember. On Australia Day 2012, however, the ceremony was anything but.

Soon after it began, an angry mob of 200 Aborigines and their white supporters marched up to the front door of the restaurant and loudly interrupted proceedings. When security would not let them inside, they surrounded the building and, banging hard on its glass walls, shouted “shame” and “racist” and chanted: “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”.

As they kept pounding, the crowd’s anger steadily grew. After thirty minutes of it, the Prime Minister’s Federal Police escort regarded their temper as so volatile that it constituted a physical danger to her safety. “We feel the situation is deteriorating and can’t stay much longer,” a television crew recorded one security man saying as he called for reinforcements. In particular, the police thought the force of the crowd battering the restaurant’s glass walls would cause them to collapse, exposing the Prime Minister to a rush of protesters.

So a police bodyguard seized Julia Gillard and, with arms wrapped around her, he and others rushed her from the building. As they left down the outside stairs, protesters punched police officers on the back. The Prime Minister stumbled and fell, losing a shoe and cutting her foot. She recalled:

The Federal Police officer shielding me, Lucas Atkins, picked me up, literally hurled me into the back of the waiting Commonwealth car and then threw himself on top of me to protect me, lest a protester try to force their way into the car. While covering me like this, he swivelled around and grabbed Tony Abbott, dragging him into the car too.

As this was taking place, reinforcements of about fifty Federal and Australian Capital Territory Police, including members of the riot squad wielding batons and shields, cleared a path through the angry mob. Some protesters held aloft makeshift weapons such as rocks and sticks, while others pursued the Prime Minister’s car down the road, banging on its roof and bonnet.

None of these people was arrested, let alone charged with any offences. In the Australian Capital Territory, Aborigines can obviously threaten violence against the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader with impunity. The police and other security personnel confined themselves to an entirely passive role, allowing the mob to withdraw 200 meters along King George Terrace to rejoin others at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy site, opposite Old Parliament House. There, in front of news cameras, Aboriginal parents and their children publicly spat on the Australian flag, burnt it and danced on the ashes, all to the applause of onlookers.

On the morning of the drama at the Lobby Restaurant, a group of about 1500 people had marched through the streets of Canberra chanting “Who owns the land? We do.” Speakers included one of the Tent Embassy’s original participants, Michael Anderson. He said the aim of the founders was to secure indigenous people’s sovereignty over Australia. This meant, he said, self-governance as well as compensation for land lost. He said if the Gillard government did not meet their demands for sovereignty, those present would wage an international campaign, including international legal action and pressure through international organisations.

For this event, the demonstrators set up a campfire as the embassy’s centerpiece. Giant letters around the fire spelled out in caps the word “SOVEREIGNTY”. The campfire can still be seen burning today, and clearly provided inspiration for the protest fires on December 30, as well as persuading Canberra police that lighting fires was an acceptable accompaniment to Aboriginal protest.

Australia Day 2012 was the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Tent Embassy, and people had come to Canberra from around Australia to commemorate it. The 1972 symbolic embassy, deriving its political tactics from the 1960s American Black Power movement and its initial funding from the Communist Party of Australia, had remained in place most of that time, although it was mostly nothing more than a handful of intermittently occupied tents. During those four decades, with no water, electricity or sanitation, the site normally looked like a camp for homeless people, a miserable eyesore opposite the stately art deco lines of Canberra’s Old Parliament House. However, during the several attempts over the years by Canberra police and health authorities to close it down, the camp quickly sprang to life (below), repopulated by activists from near and far.

The original decision to call it an “embassy”, thereby declaring that Aborigines belonged to a separate country, was a shrewd tactic. One of the founders, Paul Coe, described it quite accurately as “one of the most brilliant symbolic forms of protest that this country has ever seen”.  So it was not surprising its fortieth anniversary in 2012 generated a conspicuous revival of attendance and passion for the cause.

News reports of the riot that afternoon initially blamed Tony Abbott, who the Tent Embassy inhabitants had been told made a provocative call for the protest site to be disbanded. It later became known, however, that Abbott had not said this. Rather, one of Julia Gillard’s press secretaries, Tony Hodges, had passed a false report to the Aborigines that Abbott wanted the embassy closed down and that he was soon to attend a function very close by. In other words, Gillard’s own office incited the incident with the aim of smearing her opponent as a racist and reactionary. Nonetheless, it said a great deal about Aboriginal activist attitudes that they needed so little encouragement and were so ready and willing to be used as militant political fodder.

In fact, the damage the publicity caused to wider Aboriginal political objectives led some Aboriginal public identities to quickly disown the rioters. As they did after the recent incident of incendiarism, the Aboriginal industry in 2012 blamed motley outsiders. Human Rights Commissioner Mick Gooda condemned the protest and its disrespect for the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader. Western Australian indigenous magistrate Sue Gordon said the Tent Embassy did not reflect the views of remote Australia.

The reason for these concerns was clear at the time. Just one week earlier, the government released the report of the panel Julia Gillard appointed to make recommendations about recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in the Australian Constitution. Co-chaired by Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler, the report recommended alterations to the constitution to not only recognise these indigenous peoples but to acknowledge their land and water rights and to respect their cultures, languages and heritage.

At the time, it seemed obvious that as long as the Australia Day riot remained the public face of Aboriginal Australia the chance of a national referendum endorsing the panel’s report was poor. Some observers said prospects for constitutional change were now non-existent. “The proposed amendment is now dead,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan. “The Australian public will not enshrine special privileges for any group on the basis of race, especially after the events of the past few days.”

However, political memories these days are short and the 2012 riot took place under Gillard’s minority government whose days were numbered. When Tony Abbott subsequently became Prime Minister, his decision to endorse the campaign for recognition put constitutional change back on the political agenda. Two years after the tent embassy riot Abbott said his objective was not to change the Constitution but to complete it, so that we can make our country “whole”.

This was a gracious approach from a politician who had suffered more than most from public abuse by leading Aboriginal identities. But Abbott’s sentiment was never reciprocated. The aim of most Aboriginal activists is anything but making the Constitution complete or the nation whole. Their ambition for decades now has been to increasingly divide the nation between them and the rest of us.

They see themselves as “First Peoples” — now rebranded with the Canadian term “First Nations” — whose ancestral status gives them rights unavailable to other Australians. They do not regard the current Australian nation as their true country. They describe the Australia nation as no more than a recently arrived “settler state” whose rule they reluctantly endure, and whose institutions they regard as fit not for respect but destruction.

This is an edited extract from Keith Windschuttle’s book The Break-Up of Australia: The real Agenda behind Aboriginal Recognition, Quadrant Books, 2016

21 thoughts on “The Violent Politics of Australia Day

  • Daffy says:

    One thing the Covid clown show has demonstrated to us: the tactics the Victoria police have pioneered: generous use of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, riot trucks (water cannon?) May be the feds need to get all that gear ready to protect democracy…not the ‘fake’ protection of the Victoria police, but the real protection against insurrectionists (to misapply the US misapplication of that word). I think, of course, of the Federal police officers courage in protecting the PM.

  • en passant says:

    Give them part of OZ to call their own. I am all for giving them the ACT and appointing Bruce Pascoe King. I would then fence off THEIR land, cut off that filthy white man’s currency (shells used to be their coin, it can be so again) and let them ‘live aboriginal’. Given enough time they might invent the wheel and how to brew beer. No entry of exit would be permitted. What more could we do for them, and what more could they possibly want …?

  • lbloveday says:

    “..what more could they possibly want…?”
    Access to the sea – one thing Aborigines did pretty well before British Settlement was fishing.

  • lbloveday says:

    Gillard’s claim “..grabbed Tony Abbott, dragging him into the car too” led me to refresh my memory of Abbott jogging along behind Gillard and her security with a bemused look, certainly not fear, on his face.
    I found no indication that he was did not get into the car under his own steam, but did find this revealing admission as a footnote in a Sydney Morning Herald article by Dylan Welch.
    “Correction: This article has been amended to remove the suggestion in the original version that Tony Abbott called for the tent embassy to close”.
    The Left media falsely reporting on Abbott. Quelle surprise!

  • lbloveday says:

    that he did not get into the car

  • cbattle1 says:

    As an obsessive stickler for details, I note that this edited extract from “The Breakup of Australia” contains the sentence, “None of these people was arrested, let alone charged with any offences.” My copy of this book correctly uses, on page 7, the word “were”, and not “was” as in the edited version above. Unless, of course, the rules of grammer have changed since 2016, and therefore it is I that stand corrected!

    With the rising tide of the Left in the Western Democracies, the boat of Aboriginal Sovereignty is floating higher and higher.

    • John C says:

      The word “none” is a contraction of “not one,” so the use of a singular verb “was” is correct, although few English users follow this logic. Most use the plural “were” in such an instance.

  • lbloveday says:

    Quote: Unless, of course, the rules of grammer [sic] have changed since 2016
    Some people seem to think they have.
    I wrote in a recent comment to The Australian, REJECTED of course:
    “If the ABC were a privately owned broadcaster, The Australian Communications and Media Authority would likely suspend its licence”
    When I complained about being rejected, the Engagement Editor, The Australian, replied:
    “If the ABC was a privately owned broadcaster … ” (“was” in italics)
    In a subsequent exchange, the same Editor wrote in reply to my pointing out his use of “i” instead of “I”:
    “Pedantry is a luxury for the time-rich. Insistence on capital letters is a clear sign of a petty-bourgeois, capitalist-roader mindset”.
    They are not all like minded and, or inconsistent – David Penberthy once wrote to me:
    “Good on you Len. Pedantry is important, it keeps us honest and accurate! All the best Dave”

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    When I went to school in the 1940s/50s, “None of these people was arrested…” was the correct usage. Think that “none” is the shortened version of “not one” and the grammatical situation is clear.

    • Tom Parker says:

      Quite so. ‘ None ‘ means ‘ no one ‘ and so is singular. But language changes we are told so maybe these days ‘ none ‘ are regarded as being plural. Not for any good reason, just the usual ignorant usage replacing what is logically the correct one. The same principle is now seeing ‘ it’s ‘ being used for ‘ its ‘. ‘ It’s ‘ is a contaction of ‘ it is ‘ and that’s all one needs to know on the subject. I am waiting to read ‘ your’s ‘ and ‘ their’s ‘, ‘ her’s ‘ etc. Fortunately I am sufficiently old enough to hopefully be spared such monstosities before I shuffle off.

  • lhackett01 says:

    I am sick and tired of the efforts of the woke to destroy all that has made Australia great. Today, Australian culture and institutions are being torn apart by those who want to be noticed, who declare they are victims, who want to fragment Australian society. This thought includes the Aboriginal push for a Voice, a Treaty, and Sovereignty.

    Aborigines never had sovereignty and the British settled Australia according to international law at the time and which denied the concept of native title. Notwithstanding, during the Mabo vs Queensland case, activist judges decided to create a new common law that permitted native title. This has led to continuing and overarching Aboriginal activism we are experiencing today.

    At the root of all Aboriginal matters is the question,”Who is an Aboriginal?” The present definitions include “the need for Aboriginal lineage”, no matter how dilute, to “anyone can claim Aboriginality”. Aborigines received many benefits from governments an other organisations that are superior to those offered to non-Aborigines. Consequently, the number of Aborigines in Australia has increased markedly. The definition of Aboriginality needs to be defined precisely. It should be restricted to full and half castes because any further dilution means that person is predominately other than Aboriginal.

    The pandering to Aborigines is divisive. How is it possible that the Aboriginal tent ’embassy’ has been allowed to despoil the forecourt of Canberra’s Old Parliament House? Would you or I be allowed to set up a camp there?

    Until and unless Aboriginality is sensibly defined and governments rule and act on matters concerning Aborigines without fear or favour for the greater good, then Australian society with be increasingly divided and disfunctional.

  • Adam J says:

    I agree fully with you, but I will point out that Native Title has a long history in English law. When for example the English would fight for parts of France, the villagers would keep title to their property despite the change in sovereign. This is in contrast to Aborigines who did not ‘own’ land in any measurable way. Native title for Aborigines was Paul Keating’s invention: Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander.

    There was certainly no Aboriginal nations or states; the Australian nation is therefore just as indigenous as Japan. Despite the Leftist babble about multiculturalism, Australians today are denied by our oligarchs the right to cherish our Western, Christian, and Colonial heritage. Here in Perth they are building an Aboriginal museum; if they ever get around to building a colonial one, it would be vandalised in moments. Multiculturalism is Leftist tribalism.

  • padraic says:

    Native Title, as I understand, only exists because the Parliament passed legislation to give effect to the High Court rulings, but there was no compulsion on Parliament to have done so. If that is the case, then Parliament could remove the legislation and the problem, hopefully, would go away. The Court at the time claimed that recognising “land rights” did not mean that “sovereignty” was also recognised. However, the thrust of the Aboriginal activists’ agenda, aided and abetted by their white legal friends and others who appear to be ravaged by drugs is to overturn that assurance and, as indicated in the article, form a separate polity within Australia. But they are not telling us exactly what the end product will look like, so they don’t “scare the horses”. Native Title was just the first step, then to be followed in turn by “Recognition”, Self-Determination” and finally “Sovereignty”. Sovereignty needs “recognition” in the Constitution, but nobody is being told how “self determination” will then play out. Authorities are wringing their hands over the lawless behaviour of young Aboriginal children but that behaviour is understandable as they are being taught to hate white people and the Australian democratic system by the sort of people who rioted in 2012 and recently. At some stage the politicians have to say “Enough is enough” and draw a line in the sand. At this stage I believe there is Buckley’s chance that a Constitutional change referendum would get up, and I hope it never will. lhackett is right to draw attention to the definition of Aboriginality. Determining such a definition is reminiscent of the Apartheid days in South Africa when people tied themselves up in cultural knots trying to determine who was white, who was coloured and who was black. It used to split families and was unworkable, because it was based on race and an affront to human dignity. The UK system for people wanting to claim British citizenship rights is based on having a grandparent on either the father’s or mother’s side of the family. But that is not what the activists are wanting. They want as many as possible to be classified as Aborigines so as to make a new polity viable, while rejecting their Australian citizenship.

  • Simon says:

    I don’t think they’ve figured out yet that without us whiteys they wouldn’t have any grog…….

  • Trevor Bailey says:

    I was a policeman patrolling Port Adelaide more than 40 years ago. Given time, I was punched, bitten and spat at by people black, white and brindle. Grog and crime are colour blind.

  • colin.white18 says:

    Democracy must protect itself from those who would destroy it. The freedom to protest is sacred, but that freedom does not entitle any protester to use violence, loot, or damage property.
    It is essential for the preservation of democracy that these destructive behaviours are prosecuted vigorously.

  • padraic says:

    I agree with you Trevor. Anyone who has been at the coal face of working in an area involving people with drug and/or alcohol problems (as I have) knows that it is rampant in the white community, complete with ruined lives, and not just an issue among Aborigines. I find it disgusting that the media and politicians have made it an Aborigine only problem while the public health authorities seem only interested in stopping tobacco smoking (not a mention of marihuana), and the use of salt and sugar and red meat (Oh, and I forgot to mention – “Climate Change”)

  • cel47143 says:

    I was invitied to a “Survival Day” event to be held on Monday. I asked what this meant, and the answer was vague, something about culture, bring community together for a happy event. I did not have the presence of mind to ask if the culture they were celebrating included circumcising teenage boys with a stone knife then sending them bush for a few days and the handing of teenage girls wo had reached puberty to old men. I did ask how the proponent was reconciling the fact that most of the organisers had more colonial blood then local aboriginal and how would their life have turned out if the French had beaten Cook to Botany Bay. And that 99% of the town’s population would not exist if this had happened. Proved to be a conversatoin stopper. Yes, some bad things happened in years gone by which cannot be changed, which I acknoweldge and resolve not repeat.

  • scepticismplus says:

    Not that I think that it will ever be able to be substantiated, are the Aboriginals the continent’s first settlers or were they the group that routed the previous occupiers (read the Denisovan population)?
    Unfortunately, the Australian climate is so inhospitable the chances of locating any specimens to corroborate this suggestion are remote at best.

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