Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:
The issue of Aboriginal land rights is one of the most intractable disputes in Australian politics and raises a whole host of thorny questions which few people expect to see resolved anytime soon. Except, perhaps, Jim Lloyd, the junior Howard Government minister in charge of Local Government and Territories and Roads. Lloyd has come up with a plan to convince the land rights protesters at Canberra’s Aboriginal tent embassy to pack up and go home.
Lloyd’s stroke of genius has been to call in Queensland “conflict resolution” outfit Mutual Mediations to negotiate the future of the tent embassy, a symbolic campsite that was first set up on the lawns of the old Parliament House more than 30 years ago to protest former PM Billy McMahon’s refusal to acknowledge Aboriginal land rights. The embassy has been there pretty much ever since, attracting media attention worldwide as a symbol of Aboriginal protest at the failure of Governments of all persuasions to resolve the land rights issue.
So how are a bunch of Queensland psychologists able wander in after 30 years and convince Aboriginal protesters that it’s a bad idea to kick up such a messy fuss? According to Lloyd’s press release, Mutual Mediations has been charged with facilitating a “consultative process” that will “involve the whole Aboriginal community throughout Australia in deciding the future” of the tent embassy site.
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“This is not only an important issue for the Canberra Aboriginal community but for Aboriginal communities around Australia,” Lloyd says. “I reiterate the point that I recognise the tent embassy’s history and its purpose, but I do believe that what is there now is unacceptable and does not represent the majority of the Aboriginal community…I know there are some people out there who continue to live in the past, but I’m encouraging those who want to move forward to walk with me into the future and help us deliver something that can benefit all Australians.”
Gary Foley, one of the original tent embassy protesters, says this is code for a done deal to pack up the embassy. He agrees that what’s there now is a bit of an eyesore but says no-one should underestimate the significance of the site to Aboriginal people. Foley was asked to join the advisory committee and his name is still on the minister’s website. But he tells Crikey that he attended one meeting to check out the committee’s terms of reference, but has decided not to take part in what he says is a sham process. (We rang Lloyd’s office to check if Foley was on the committee, and his spokeswoman said she was not aware he’d quit).
Meanwhile, after a month’s delay, Lloyd’s spokeswoman told Crikey he expects Mutual Mediations to submit their recommendations at the end of November. And if the promises on the Mutual Mediations website are anything to go by (“the mediation process can usually settle a dispute within a few sessions,” “most mediations conclude or settle within thirty days,” “mediation statistically settles over 85% of initiated disputes”) the tent embassy could soon be gone. Or that’s the theory.