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Australia Day protest no match for media hysteria

Australia Day turned ugly in Canberra yesterday after comments by Tony Abbott incited Aboriginal Tent Embassy activists to protest at an event attended by Abbott and Julia Gillard, resulting in a dramatic exit of the leaders executed by the PM’s security detail. But the ensuing media coverage has been just as sensational.

Earlier in the day, Abbott was questioned by a journalist on whether the Tent Embassy was still relevant or needed to move on. Abbott replied “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 has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that.”

Abbott and Gillard were attending an Australia Day function just a few hundred metres away from the Tent Embassy when his comments were aired on television. Around 100-200 people (numbers in media reports vary) who’d been celebrating the Tent Embassy’s 40th anniversary headed over to the glass-walled Lobby restaurant to protest Abbott’s comments.

Protesters banged on the glass walls of the restaurant chanting slogans including “shame Abbott shame” and “always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”. After PM security staff deemed the situation a rising threat, a rather dramatic escape of Gillard and Abbott ensued, where the leaders were shepherded out surrounded by riot police and put into a waiting car. Gillard lost her shoe in the process. Activists promised to sell it on eBay to raise money for the tent embassy, but now say they will return it to Gillard.

A look at the nation’s front pages shows some quite dramatic imagery — and some even more dramatic headlines:

It’s important to note that Gillard tripped over, she wasn’t pushed or attacked by protesters. For a look from another angle — including footage of the security detail warning Gillard of the need to leave The Lobby restaurant and Gillard suggesting Tony Abbott should be escorted out with her — check out this video:

A number of articles have appeared today questioning the legitimacy of the Tent Embassy in light of the protest. This behaviour just illustrates the problems with the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, argues David Penberthy at The Punch:

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy has never engendered any public respect. It has never done anything to bring black and white Australia together. It is sadly fitting then that the 40th anniversary of this illegal assortment of galvo humpies was celebrated with an unprecedented outburst of violence which saw our Prime Minister being dragged along the ground and our Opposition Leader behind a riot shield.”

Making concessions to Indigenous Australians simply causes this racial divide, declares Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun:

This is not reconciliation. This is instead a warning that the wrong path has been taken, leading us to deeper divisions, entrenched by laws, and with dissent punished in courts or on the streets. It means each concession, no matter how extreme, is feeding a hunger for yet more.

Chairman of the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations, Fred Hooper, explained the angry response by indigenous protesters: ”The Opposition Leader on national television made a comment to tear down something that we have built over 40 years which is sacred to us. ’So what do you expect us to do when we’re 200 yards away from the person that makes that comment? Do you expect us to say, ‘Yeah, Tony, we’re gonna do that now, we’re gonna rip it down’?”

Former ALP President and indigenous leader Warren Mundine said that the protestors had overreacted to Abbott’s comments, adding that the Opposition Leader didn’t say anything about shutting down the embassy: “The words were pretty timid…He echoed words, I would have echoed.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda described the protest as “aggressive, divisive and frightening”, while others have stressed that the majority of the Tent Embassy attendees remained at the Embassy site to continue their celebrations.

A reporter at the Green Left Weekly quoted Sam Castro, who is currently at the Tent Embassy:

When I spoke to Sam she said that the protesters thought the riot police were arranging to form a sort of guard around the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader so that they could come out and talk to the crowd but, as the rest of the media has shown, the riot police’s real objective was to ‘escort’ the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to their cars.

As more protesters made their way to the restaurant, the riot police charged out the doors, practically dragging Ms Gillard along, while the onlookers began to shout “where are you going?” and “why won’t you talk to us?” As the cars drove off, some people threw plastic water bottles and water at the cars.”

The Fin Review reports that co-chairman of Reconciliation Australia Tom Calma said that while he supported the right to protest, it was unacceptable that the Prime Minister had been placed at physical risk and would be disappointing if the actions of a few could be interpreted as reflecting the views of Aboriginal people.

However, he didn’t let Tony Abbott off the hook either — “The other disappointment is that on a day of celebration the Opposition Leader passes a comment about the tent embassy at a time when the embassy is celebrating 40 years of peaceful protest, by and large…This could be interpreted, in an emotional situation, as inciting that sort of behaviour.”

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  • 1
    Jimmy
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I must say as no fan of Abbott’s that I don’t find anything particularly wrong with his comments, things have come a long way in the last 40 years and the purpose of the embassy should be reviewed, even if it is just making it more relevant to the issues of the day.

    I also think it is interesting to here the talkback hosts being disgusted in the lack of respect for the office considering it is they who have fostered this lack of respect in the last fews years (combined with Abbott’s “attack dog” style). I thnk we sould examine whether this has created an atmosphere more conducive to this sort of action?

    From a purely political viewpoint this is probably quite good for Gillard, gives her a bit of a circuit breaker from the Pokies issue, makes people a bit more sympathetic towards her, might encourage more “respect for the office”, get’s people to question Abbott’s “fitness to lead” (although in this case it is unfounded) and she get’s points for her “and what about Mr Abbott” comment.

  • 2
    Woody
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Just heard journo Tony Wright on the ABC saying that he and his wife own the restaurant in question. He wondered why they weren’t ushered out the rear exit via the kitchen.

    Good question. I suppose they wasn’t any cameras round the back though…..

  • 3
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    God David Penberthy is idiot.

  • 4
    Son of foro
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Ah, the Coalition’s Midas touch. Even when they don’t say anything they somehow manage to say something.

    If Abbott can turn back boats all by himself, surely dealing with a few protesters would be a stroll in the park.

  • 5
    Steve777
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Like @Jimmy, I don’t think what Mr Abbott said was particularly bad. Also, unlike some posters in ‘Poll Bludger’, I do not think that Mr Abbott was dog whistling when he said it. However, I can understand why many would object to Mr Abbott’s comments.

    It is indeed regrettable that some protesters allowed their anger to overcome their judgement, resulting in the disruption of an Australia Day event to honour the Emergency Services and causing real concerns for the safety of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Protesters who broke the law, if they can be identified, should be held to account.

    Be that as it may, however, I hope this does NOT mean it’s time for the tabloid press and commercial talk radio to rage against what they would call the ‘Aboriginal Industry’. A forlorn hope, I suppose. I also hope that the Coalition and its media cheer squad don’t reach for the dog whistle.

  • 6
    GeeWizz
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    If Abbott can turn back boats all by himself, surely dealing with a few protesters would be a stroll in the park.”

    Well he did do something about them, they are now universally hated across the land.

    Calls for the forced shutdown of the white-fellas-pretending-to-talk-for-real-black-fellas tent embassy will no doubt be coming thick and fast now.

  • 7
    cannedheat
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Its a really bad image for the PM unfortunately. Doubtless it will be on high rotation forever in the Murdoch press - Gillard looking scared, feminine and vulnerable.

    Did anyone else notice this or is it just me?

  • 8
    Son of foro
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Well he did do something about them, they are now universally hated across the land.

    The big sookie la la had to hide behind the PM’s skirt. All talk and no trouser that Abbott.

    I had a pot’n’parma in 37 clubs in NSW last night and I can tell you that they’re all angry at Abbott’s cowardice.

  • 9
    Andybob
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Oddly enough I would actually listen to Abott regarding indigenous issues before any other topic. He has visited remote communities and spoken to community leaders. I don’t know what his policies are and would always be wary of his propensity to politicize am issue but he has credibility in this area. You would have to be trying pretty hard to construe his comments as inflammatory.

    The media pictures don’t match the message. The shot of the PM tripping should have been captioned security trip up PM. Comment about the protectors should have been accompanied by shots of the protestors. No doubt Tony Wright will let us know more.

  • 10
    Andybob
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Protectors = protestors according to my phone. Maybe it knows something I don’t.

  • 11
    DingoBabyEat
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    We’ve come a long way in 40 years? The comments flooding the footage on youtube are overwhelmingly racist. In terms of public attitudes towards issues that concern indigenous people, I would say we have slipped backwards quite dramatically.

    The tent embassy doesn’t exist without the commitment of people to keep it alive. It is relevant for as long as those people have the compulsion to make it happen. It’s not for a politician or anyone else to declare the movement out of date.

    How often do indigenous people get to protest in any significant way where it’s going to make the papers? What we saw was a bit of good old fashioned sabre rattling but where was the violence? All I saw was a couple of ten pound poms tripping over themselves. Sure, Gillard’s breasts were fondled a little bit but that was purely at the discretion of some rather zealous security guards. Great images by the way…but sympathy?? God NO!

  • 12
    arnold ziffel
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Apparently from now on our national day is going to be all about how we embarrass ourselves on the issue of race.
    Slow learners, we.

  • 13
    sickofitall
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    without meaning any disrespect (though there’s probably some in there), that top photo looks like Ms Gillard is reenacting the last scene of Pulp Fiction - where Pumpkin and Honeybunny leave the cafe, after hearing Jules Winfield explain why he’s not going to kill them…

    Ultimately, I thought it one of least offensive things Tony Abbot has said - but in his typical way, hamfisted, wrong time, wrong place. It’s good cooler heads prevailed and the shoe is going back to Ms Gillard.

    @Arnold Ziffel: I hope you’re wrong. But I suspect you aren’t.

  • 14
    Oscar Jones
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    As a non-Abbott fan , what he said was fairly mild. I’m not sure what the protestors referred to when they were shouting ‘shame’ although there is much to be ashamed of in this country over the treatment of Aboriginals.

    Despite that is was all very spectacular and made for an exciting Oz Day which is generally a rather sill orgy of nationalism.

    The British newspapers abounded with comments from female readers about the PM’s handsome minder who she clung to like the heroine of a movie.

  • 15
    Son of foro
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Sicko

    There is a general point about Abbott’s not being PM material. He frequently shows very poor judgement when asked a question, and then always blames the person asking the question: Mark Riley, the MMM knuckleheads, um, whoever asked that question yesterday.

    Specifically, yesterday’s response was out of all proportion to what he said, no doubt. Generally though , he lacks the judgement, or the skills, of knowing when to deflect questions. It’s a big flaw for him.

    Anyway, thank god the shoe is safe.

  • 16
    Oscar Jones
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    and Daniel is correct in his analysis of Penberthy, surely the sort of News Ltd editor who has got the corporation in the mess it’s in.

  • 17
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Media sensationalism or otherwise, that protester waving the Prime Minister’s shoe like a trophy is an ugly, ugly look. That’s the sort of thing that sets causes back by years, if not longer. The odds of Aboriginal recognition in the Constitution getting up at a referendum any time this decade would have just lengthened significantly.

  • 18
    Masters Jill
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    even someone like me, who is actively seeking to ind the wrong thing with anything abbot says can see he meant nothing other than they (the protestors) should move on from the issues. however, i find it fairly distasteful a white man telling a aboriginal people to effectively “get over it”. i’m sure most white people would like aboriginal people to “get over it”, that way they can forget about how poorly they’ve been treated in the past, and still continue to be treated.

  • 19
    Jimmy
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    The Oz is reporting allegations that the PM is responsible for the riot …… next thing you know she will have sh.ot JFK!!

  • 20
    Tommy B
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    This was a piss poor media stunt that went wrong for all involved.

    Seriously seriously sick of both sides of politics in this country.

    On Australia Day, Tony Abbott was in Sydney in the morning participating in an Ocean Swim. He could have easily afterwards dropped by the aboriginal festival near Sydney University.(the largest of its kind in Oz). That would have been a much better place for him to talk about progress and not be misquoted/taken out of context.

  • 21
    Gungaroo
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Rumour has it that a Gillard staffer rang NT Aboriginal activist Barbara Shaw and conveyed the news that Abbott wanted the embassey dismantled and that the PM and Abbott were at a nearby resturant. Shaw fronts up to the microphone and relays this message to the crowd. Suddenly there are more sucurity and police surrounding the resturant, well before protestors arrived. Was it staged?

  • 22
    kerrycrompton1
    Posted Friday, 27 January 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of the political causes in play, the behaviour from demonstrators was nothing other than an appalling display of ignorance from a feral mob. A minority purporting to represent the majority.

  • 23
    Bobalot
    Posted Saturday, 28 January 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    This is amazing.

    Gillard’s staffer (Tony Hodges) told a acquaintance where Tony Abbott was going to be with the PM later (Keep in mind, Tony Abbott’s whereabouts are not a state secret, he often tweets them on his twitter account). Plenty of people knew where they would be, including many journalists.

    This acquaintance told somebody in the crowd of protesters and they descended upon Gillard and Abbott and harassed them.

    And this is somehow Julia Gillard’s fault? I’m honestly not following this.

  • 24
    jeffrr
    Posted Saturday, 28 January 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    @Bobalot, I agree, this is nothing out of the ordinary - at least not for lefty political activists.A Gillard staffer and and an ACT union leader worked together to incite a riot, in the hope of gaining some political advantage. The union leader called Abbott a coward for ‘disappearing’, then told the Canberra Times she had no part in the affair - a claim contradicted by both the PM and Aboriginal Tent Embassy identities. Now, the union leader is ‘unavailable for comment’! Hilarious!

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