Australia Day 2012: Evil prevails, when good men say nothing

Let me begin by stating my unequivocal support for Aboriginal rights, equality, reconciliation, and the improvement of health, welfare, education, work and leisure opportunities for Indigenous people.

I’ve been to Canberra several times and I’ve seen the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.  I think it’s an important reminder of how bad things used to be, and how much has yet to be done.

Is the Tent Embassy an untidy blot on the carefully manicured Canberra landscape? Yes, indeed. But our treatment and neglect of Indigenous Australians is a far more untidy blot on the carefully manicured historical landscape of this country.  The Tent Embassy is an important symbol of that.

When we have taken so much from the traditional owners of this country, I think it is petty and churlish to deny them the right to their embassy.  If politicians want the embassy dismantled, they should work harder (and smarter)  to fix the problems it is there to remind them of!

That said, I am sickened and appalled at what appears to have been an attempt by some Aboriginal activists and their cohorts to bully and frighten Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday.  Apparently,  some intemperate remarks from Tony Abbott, earlier in the day,  caused anger.  As a result, a group of protestors decided to take their grievances to a restaurant where the politicians were dining.  According to news reports, a group of approximately 200 angry agitators gathered outside the restaurant. Some banged on the glass sides of the restaurant building in sufficient numbers and with sufficient force to raise security concerns. Some activists chased the politicians’ car down the road, banging on its roof and bonnet while others threw plastic water bottles at the vehicle.  Whether there was ‘actual’ violence is a moot point – a climate conducive to violence was created by the intimidatory and provocative action of trying to accost the Opposition Leader, using a disorganised protest at a public venue. I stand firm in condemning this.

I am no fan of Tony Abbott and I find his remarks about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy ill-timed, ill-considered and insensitive. I am also no fan of Julia Gillard or her party who appear to have given little but lip-service to Indigenous issues.  Saying “sorry” was a grand and necessary gesture, but it was not followed with meaningful, practical action.

However, despite my strong sentiments in favour of the Indigenous antagonists in this melee, I simply cannot sit silent and implicitly support their actions yesterday.  To be blunt, storming a restaurant, threatening the property of those not even involved in the dispute, frightening patrons who very likely support your cause, trying to make your point through physical intimidation and belligerent behaviour, and causing the Prime Minister of this country to cower in fear as she is rushed through a street brawl is thuggery pure and simple. I will not condone it with my silence.

Indigenous Australians have every reason to be angry. They have every reason to defend their embassy. But this is Australia and, whatever our history, whatever the mistakes of the past, here, today, we do not fight political battles with physical violence.  I don’t care whether you’re black or white. I don’t care what your grievance is.  This is not how we do things in this country and unless those of us who support social equity, progress and human rights stand up and condemn this action, we are a part of the problem.

I do not ever want to see an Australian Prime Minister (or any other person), male or female, having to be dragged from a building in fear again.  I don’t care what your cause may be; this is not the way to address it. No matter how angry you are, no matter how provoked you feel you have been, you do your cause no favours by resorting to mob violence (and, yes, the threat of violence is still violence in my book).

I live by the maxim:

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

What happened yesterday was good people with a good cause doing evil.  And I will not stay silent.

Chrys Stevenson

Gillard, Abbott escorted under guard amid Aboriginal Tent Embassy protest, The Australian

See also Australia Day by Mike Stuchbery, the sentiments of which I heartily endorse  – 

Extract:  “You can sit me down and discuss radical means of action. You can talk to me all you want about not falling into line with the hegemony, that you’re not there to look good for the cameras.

Fact is, you’re in Canberra. It’s Australia Day. The focus, whether you like it or not, is on you. Any aggro and there will be newsvans down there within minutes to provide fodder for a fortnight’s frenzied headlines.

Use your bloody heads, as well as your hearts.”

28 thoughts on “Australia Day 2012: Evil prevails, when good men say nothing

  1. martin

    While I agree almost 100% with everything you say, I do have a problem with one of your assumptions. Namely, that she HAD to be dragged from the building.

    I assert that she could have walked calmly from the building and addressed the crowd then returned to continue the ceremony.

    She wasn’t going to be assassinated.

      1. Sam

        Everyone misses the cause, lets as a country deal with this ongoing shameful chapter of our history and never have these things happen again, a whole race can only internalise their hurt, anger, pain, desperation for so long, we cant even ask our leaders questions, we have tried to address these issue in a fair way but still was ignored since invasion, if you cant get your leaders to listen ever, but they have all these ideas for you and all these shit jobs on offer without consultation, seems like a dictatorship to me, let just catch up to the other countrys claiming its a “great” nation with “great” people and make a treaty? Why not? its shameful to stand alone as a country that hasnt tried to settle the past, Australia created this situation, I hope we are mature enough to fix it, we are a first world nation, dont bother comparing us to second world nations to make youself feel better, Australia look bad enough

      2. townsvilleblogS

        I think Gillard has been knocking around with the AWU for too long, she’s beginning to get as slippery and slimy as they are. Not a good sign from a woman I once had a lot of respect for. Speaking of respect, that is precisely the missing ingredient here, the government and Australian population need to have more respect for ATSI people.

  2. Ken Dally

    The protesters who took part in this ill advised, no stupid behaviour, have probably set back the cause for indigenous rights by years. The images of a terrified Prime Minister surrounded by an obviously seriously concerned protection detail will like long in the publics memory.

    If you want to see the result of an emotional group mind running out of control look no further. It is the same phenomenon that drove the Cronulla riots, the anti establishment street violence in Greece, abortion clinic bombings and shootings in the USA and the infamous Nuremberg Rallies in Germany. People with a sense of loss of entitlement given the right triggers and a destructive leader can be lead to the most heinous acts.

    Australia has mostly been very fortunate in that we rarely see such displays of mindless thuggery however they regrettably appear to be on the increase.

  3. givingnottaking

    My thoughts exactly, and I do have to admit my initial thinking was a frustration with Tony Abbott’s remarks but this fell into insignificance with the resulting commotion created by the Tent Embassy supporters, there is a right and wrong way to go about things and their reaction seemed over the top. I do however strongly support our indigenious people and their cause and I will always support them and all other minorities whilst inequality exists .

  4. townsvilleblog

    There is no need for violence, even though Abbott attracts strong emotions against his backward way of thinking. The first Australians should have a prized place in Australian hearts and in the constitution. Sadly that arch conservative concentrates on one thought, how can I serve my corporate masters. We are not citizens of the USA, we do not condone violence. Australia slips a little closer each day to the attitudes of the USA, however until we are officially declared another state of the US, I will continue to support traditional Australian thought.

  5. Allie

    I agree with what you are declaring here, Chrys. I abhor violence of any type.
    It did occur to me in a moment of clarity, however, how very very patient our Indigenous brother’s and sister’s have been. How tolerant, forgiving, dignified and sane they have been under the most intemperate and disgusting behaviours of their invaders. From dispossession, to rape, murder ( most being ‘hunting Aboriginals as game’ in the 19 C), slavery ( unpaid workers, stolen children working for their white masters), castigations of all types, division, separation ( ‘housed’ on the outskirts of towns), lack of inclusion, neglect, imprisonment, segregation ( not allowed to swim in the public pools when I was a child, or sit in the cinemas where they wanted), poor employment and education opportunities …( have I made my point yet?)…after 220+ years I have wondered ( and actually asked some elders myself) why we all haven’t been murdered in our beds. The answer I received was one that you would give an impatient child asking for a lolly. “You have to understand, you have so much to learn and are so confused. We have to wait for you to learn our ways and catch up with US”.

    If this incident is one out of the blue, then I think we are lucky to have such patient Original peoples on our continent. But we also must be acutely aware that they have waited an awfully long time for us to catch up, so we can forgive a bit of temper tantrum every fifty years or so. No?

    1. givingnottaking

      No need for violence, I abhor it as well and can forgive a temper tantrum every fifty years but surely there are better ways for change than creating havoc. I remember a story in country Victoria where a couple of people (one being an Indigenous lad) ordered a sit-in coffee each at a cafe, they were served at the table with crockery cups and saucers, except for the indigenous lad who’s coffee was served in a paper/takeaway cup, now this was a common atitude back in the early days, the sad thing is that it happened in 2011.

    2. townsvilleblog

      I certainly forgive them a temper tantrum every now and then. I do not agree with Tony Abbott that things have gotten progressively better for Aboriginal people in Australia over the past 40 years, at least not good enough for them to dismantle their tent embassy. Egalitarianism has yet to be achieved, until that time I support the tent embassy and the Aboriginal people in their quest for more land to be declared theirs and more of the same opportunities that other Australians take for granted.

  6. Sean the Bookonaut

    I think everyone was far to quick to jump the gun on this one, myself included. I have been reading and reviewing news reports from shortly after it happened to just having read Mike Stuchberry’s brother’s eyewitness account.

    A couple of people walked into the restaurant and heckled the proceedings and were escorted out. There was some banging on the windows and shouting. It was decided to remove the Gillard and Abbot, Gillard stumbled after being rushed by her security detail – there were no protesters surrounding her or Abbott. The scuffles between police and protesters took place after the politicians had left.

    I find it hard to call this a violent protest, violence is having air conditioners, or axes thrown through your window or gunfights, all of which occur on aboriginal communities without an eyelid being bat.

    A unwise an unhelpful action by the protesters, a Christmas present for unscrupulous journalists and a win all round for Abbot.

    I’d like to think Abbot’s comments were just him being an idiot being interviewed by another idiot. But he’s threatened to use the Navy to turn back refugee boats just days before Australia day and then this. He’s stoking the fires, appealing to that well cultivated racism that floats just below the surface. He’s been to Aboriginal communities, he bloody well knows we haven’t come that far.

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      Sean what I find convincing is the decision to remove the PM. In almost any circumstances, one assumes, (except of course in case of a bomb threat) someone is going to be safer and easier to protect inside a building than outside with the mob. I don’t believe removing the PM would have been done without weighing up the risks inside and out. Either it was an unnecessary and foolhardy move by the Federal Police or there was sufficient threat for them to decide she had to be moved, despite the risk of getting her (and Abbott) to their car.

      Now, I don’t think the Federal Police are always right, but neither do I think they’re the Keystone Cops – especially when it comes to protecting the PM.

      I do appreciate that there are shades of grey in this story, but on balance I think the idea to march on the restaurant was belligerent and unwise, and whatever flowed from that sprang as a direct result of that first action.

      1. Sean the Bookonaut

        I wouldn’t like to comment on the security decisions, to many factors that I simply don’t know. My comment on her being rushed was in counter to the claim she was attacked(not made by you).

  7. Phil Browne

    Congratulations Chrys for taking on this issue when the “easy” thing would be to stand by and say nothing. The footage I saw from inside the restaurant showed behaviour that I find unacceptable – from any person or group of people.

  8. Sean the Bookonaut

    Have just seen some channel 9 footage of the exit – while not a walk in the park I was unable to see a significant number of protesters, surrounding the PM, indeed it seemed the police had more work cut out fending off the cameraman.

    I haven’t seen any diaolgue on why there is this seething bitterness or how politicians have taken advantage of racial intolerance for the past 14 years. The discussion seems to be falling into the well worn – oh they are just troublsome blackfellas, why can’t they sit down an talk nicely like that lovely Mr Ridgeway

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      That’s not my view, and I’m not against street protests and demonstrations or other kind of assertive action. I have repeatedly said on many issues that I think all social movements which have succeeded have done so because of a mix of approaches. But this was not well thought out, it was not strategy, it was not done with any thought to the damage it might cause to what else is being done by activists, It was a knee-jerk half-cocked action which has fed into to a heap of negative stereotypes, including the ‘troublesome blackfellas’ stereotype. I’d be wiling to bet there were more troublesome whitefellas involved in stirring things up than black although I’m not excusing those Indigenous Australians who hot-headedly charged in either.

      I don’t blame Aborigines for being angry, frustrated, or even frightened at what might become of this country, and them, if Abbott is elected. But this is not the kind of action that’s going to help. I haven’t had time to catch up on a comprehensive news report this morning but I did here a news grab that said ‘many’ Aboriginal leaders have also spoken out against yesterday’s action.

  9. Sean the Bookonaut

    Not saying it was your view Chrys. Have you read Ben Eltham’s piece in NM. Worth a look. Troublesome whitefella’s? I know what you are getting at but that could be perceived as a bit paternalistic. I know you’re not being so.

    I am still inclined to think this has been blown out of proportion and that the best thing to do is wait before stepping in with outright condemnation. If we want to talk about knee jerk reactions, we need to discuss the framing of the reporting.

    I am uncomfortable with a loud angry mob. Not convinced that it was violent. The AFP were I think just following SOP and being circumspect considering they had no idea what they were dealing with.

  10. Sean the Bookonaut

    As for “many” there’s Warren Mundine and Mick Gooda I have heard mentioned and they are upset because it’s counter to their aims.

    No blame or responsibility being placed at the feet of the reporter who asked Abbot the question nor the editor who aired it. Just a gleeful rubbing of the hands as the ratings skyrocket.

  11. Ken Wood

    It looked to me like overzealous body guards. I didn’t see protesters in most of the footage. You watch the racial vilification fly now, rednecks were just waiting for this.

  12. Andrew Partos

    Nobody got hurt, so what is the fuss about? It is a national shame how the indigenous people are treated in Australia. Their legitimate complaints are being ignored by our Governments and our politicians. Many Aborigines lost their life in police custody, but all these cases are always hushed up. The SBS will show The Tall Man on the 5th of February, which is a documentary about the policeman Hurley and how he treated Dommadgee, who died after 45 minutes in custody after very serious injuries. But this is not an isolated case, there are many others. I managed to get a DVD copy of this documentary and gave it Navy Pilay, who is the head of the UN Human Rights Commission. The 17 years old T.G Hicks was impaled on a fence in Redfern after a police pursuit and the police won’t even allow to mount a plaque in his memory.
    What we need is a number of permanent seat in Parliament for indigenous representation, like in New zealand, so that their voice can be heard.

  13. Lucas Randall (@codenix)

    Excellent post Chrys. If the facts are as they appear to be (which is seldom the case, especially early after such events), then I agree entirely with your views on this. Violence is NOT the answer to anything other than violence, and even then it must be used with restraint, with the aim to remove people from harm.

    Long ago, in another life, I received some relevant training and feel compelled to comment on the AFP protection detail’s role here. Some have commented that they were perhaps “over-zealous” in their response, which in hindsight is an easy position to take, however things are never quite so simple and obvious “in the moment”.

    The protection detail have one purpose only – to ensure the people they’re assigned to protect come to no harm. Because they can’t control everything about the environment they find their charges in, they have to operate according to procedures, activated upon their assessment of potential threat.

    It will probably turn out that the violent protesters weren’t actually violent, but “aggressive” and numerous, and therefore judged by the AFP protection detail to be a potential and unacceptable threat.

    Finding themselves in a situation which could rapidly spin out of control, and based upon their field-assessment of their position, the other civilians who could come to harm, and the unacceptable risk of serious harm to either of their charges, the detail commander evidently decided that removing the provocation (the PM and Mr Abbott’s presence), was the best way to defuse the situation, lowering the risk of harm.

    These officers are not political instruments, and in situations like this the don’t take orders from their charges. That they were able to extract both politicians without serious incident (harm or damage to people or property), is a credit to them and their procedures.

    What sort of coverage would they be getting now had they allowed the situation to spin out of control, resulting in serious property damage, or harm to their charges or bystanders, or worse – someone’s death? These risks trump all other considerations. They’d not have frivolously taken this action.

    As to the angry protesters, their rights and reason, and everything else discussed here – well, human problems are multi-layered, many-shaded and never simple. There are still serious, unacceptable problems with Aboriginal equality, and current approaches aren’t working. We should be pouring resources into improving education standards (illiteracy still affects over 1/3 of aboriginal youth *), which in my view are the root of all socio-economic inequalities.


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  16. Frederique Robert

    That Chrys individual makes me sick. There was NO violent bhaviour from protesters: just anger. The aggression came from the police – see photos and vidoes for yourselves.
    Not surprised by Abbott’s comments, but disappointed by Gillard who behaved like she was about to get slaughtered by criminals.
    Seems that again the media have manipulated information and politicians only have their own agenda in mind: getting votes and votes that do not favour indigenous people in this country, nor endeavour to close the gap and seriously deal with discrination issues of many kinds. The whole thing is a disgrace.

  17. Sam

    the protest may have set it back in side Australia but nothing was going to be delt with anyway so why would you care what a group who dont want change thinks anyway, Aboriginals have been trying to sit and talk for over 200 years with no outcomes so how could they have done it better? well now the world knows not to believe the media and the general public as they just want Aboriginals to shut up and put up, the criticism againt Australia is well deserved, expect more until the government sit and talk, we are know known as the racist country we are


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