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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3054 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

The site of the Aboriginal tent embassy is on Commonwealth/Ngunnawal land within the parliamentary triangle. It is outside the jurisdiction of the ACT government in relation to land matters. I have protested in the strongest possible terms against the recent actions of the National Capital Authority to ensure that the tent embassy can continue to pursue its just protest.

My government has a strong commitment to reconciliation, and I believe that the tent embassy has a role to play in that process. The tent embassy is a political entity protesting the legitimacy and authority of the Commonwealth. The physical appearance of the encampment and the establishment of ceremonial structures around the site have caused public criticism about the embassy. I acknowledge that. I have had many conversations similar to those Mr Humphries refers to. We need to acknowledge that, but we look for understanding and empathy as well.

The physical appearance of the tent embassy in a small way is representative of the experience of so many Aboriginal communities in Australia. Removing the tent embassy, the physical form that confronts its critics, will not remove the reality of circumstance of Aboriginal Australia. It will not make the disadvantage disappear.

As I mentioned earlier in this Assembly, I will be seeking support for the Aboriginal tent embassy at the next meeting of the Ministerial Council on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. I will be putting a motion to the council that it publicly recognise the Aboriginal tent embassy as a national symbol for the ongoing struggle for justice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; that it thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission for their leadership in negotiating protocols between the tent embassy and the local Ngunnawal people to address management issues at the site-certainly we all acknowledge that there are a range of management issues; and that it call for a national conference of indigenous and non-indigenous Australians who have been a part of the ongoing struggle of the tent embassy. Such a conference would look at the way forward for the tent embassy.

As I said previously, the day that this government agrees with the removal of the tent embassy is the day that indigenous Australians so decide. That, I imagine, could only be when there is no longer a need to protest, when we have reconciled with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.

At another level, the embassy is not just what you see when you visit the place. It is as much an idea or an ideal or a symbol. It is something that, even were the site bulldozed, would never be erased.

The day that Aboriginal people decide the embassy no longer has a place will be the day when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know that they will live as long as other Australians, when they will be employed as much as other Australians and when they will expect to achieve the same educational outcomes as other Australians and have the capacity to participate as fully as other Australians in the life of this nation. Members of this Assembly know that that day has not yet come.

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