Gary Foley, one of the original tent embassy protesters, writes:
The non-indigenous consultancy firm Mutual Mediations, which was engaged by Jim Lloyd, Federal Minister for Territories (among other things) to make recommendations regarding the future of the Aboriginal embassy in Canberra, has delivered its final report.
The key recommendation is that “there be an evolving concept of the tent embassy without permanent camping” [my italics]. The other seven major recommendations seem to be designed to bring the anarchistic tent embassy site effectively under government control and direction. This would be the total antithesis of the concept of the embassy and its significance to indigenous communities Australia wide.
It is precisely because the embassy continues to function as a symbol of resistance, outside of government control, and thereby a reminder of what many call Australian history’s “unfinished business,” that it is of such significance to indigenous people Australia-wide. (A point made by the Mutual Mediation report itself.) This is why any attempt to create a government-approved Aboriginal embassy is destined for failure.
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The key recommendation that precludes camping on the site is no great surprise because Minister Jim Lloyd had clearly pre-empted his consultants and indigenous advisory committee in his press conference on 1st August. Lloyd stated then that he had an open mind as to the future of the embassy as long as “camping on the site was not permitted in the future.” As a person who was invited to be a member of Minister Lloyd’s advisory committee, I saw no point in being part of the committee from that moment on.
It was apparent to me that the indecent haste with which the “consultations” were conducted, as well as the Minister’s pre-emption of advisory committee discussions, would mean a predictable outcome in terms of Mutual Mediations’ report. Given also the “new assimilationist” policies of the Howard government, I felt it was pointless to be involved in a process that was so essentially dishonest, and I never attended another meeting.
Nevertheless, if Mr. Lloyd (who I found personally to be a very pleasant bloke) thinks that he is to become the first politician to resolve the dilemma that the tent embassy represents for Government, he might think again. Every federal government administration since William McMahon have been bedevilled by the Aboriginal embassy. McMahon tried brute force, but that backfired, resulting in images of ACT Police bashing indigenous protesters being televised around the world. Other administrations have tried bribery, trickery and even indifference in the hope the problem would go away.
The embassy is still there, but every Minister over the past 33 years who tried to move it on has deservedly returned to the obscurity from whence they came. The Aboriginal embassy is a dormant volcano and is important to indigenous peoples because it represents resistance. Minister Lloyd should now think carefully about the old saying that refers to sleeping dogs.