Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3055 ..

MS TUCKER (3.54): I am pleased to rise in support of this matter of public importance. It is important for us to get on the record in this place our views about the tent embassy. That people allow themselves to be so offended or disturbed by a few people living in a camp site rather than in an expensive resource-intensive, middle-class house is a tremendous insight into the self-centredness of some comfortable Australians.

The real issues that face Australia in regard to indigenous people are significant. They are about who participates in this society, how people are valued, how we all ought to be proud of our identities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are enormously underemployed, face significant health issues, have noticeably lower life expectancy, have substantially higher imprisonment rates and in some communities have well-recognised problems of violence and substance abuse. There is still racism in this country towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is not a function of Aboriginality.

These inequities reflect the relationship between indigenous societies and the dominant culture of Australia. These are inequities that have grown up and been exaggerated by everything that has happened over the past 200 years-the violent destruction of Aboriginal societies, the forced attempted assimilation of Aboriginal children into white society and their persecution and exploitation in the process.

We are talking about sovereignty, about Aboriginal land across the nation, about how important the indigenous history and culture of the country are to the identity we all share as Australians. These are very big issues on all fronts.

In that context then, for the minister for territories to direct the NCA to cut the power to the tent embassy and to have the portable toilet removed is extraordinarily petty. It is mean-spirited. It is an echo of the white Australia that we hoped was a thing of the past-an intolerant white Australia that is only prepared the see world through its own rubric.

Mr Humphries thinks the tent embassy is not visually appealing. He thinks it is not a vital part of the landscape. While any Aboriginal people have a different view-and there are many from all over Australia who do-then that embassy should be allowed to stay there.

Julie Tongs, a local Aboriginal person from the Aboriginal health service Winnunga Nimmityjah has expressed to my office her distress at comments by Christopher Peters, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry calling for the removal of the embassy because it is too messy. Ms Tongs advised us that Winnunga Nimmityjah is itself a product of the embassy. In 1988, when the Queen visited Australia and a lot of Aboriginal people came to protest, three women, including the late Olive Brown, set up a health clinic at the embassy. "That is where our roots are," she said. "The embassy," she said, "is a national symbol for everybody, not a particular group of people but the whole nation." The embassy needs to remain because, as she said, "You never know when we might be back there. We can't take anything for granted." That is a very sorry statement but a true one.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .