Aboriginal Tent Embassy

There seems to have been a major debacle on the 26th of January 2012, in that it seems that Tony Abbott passed a comment in relation to the Tent Embassy, and given it was not the key issue being discussed it was in the nature of an aside, and there seems no clear evidence that Tony meant any disrespect in what he said. However in a game of Chinese Whispers, Tony Hodges, then a member of Julia Gillard Press Staff told Kim Sattler, secretary of Unions ABC that Tony was a the Lobby Restaurant and that some of the tent embassy should get over and challenge him. Clearly there was an intent to cause some heat for Tony Abbott which was perhaps well meaning, on the part of the instigator, and perhaps neither researched thoroughly nor thought through.

In the wake of this a group from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy arrive outside the venue, causing sufficient concern for those charged with the Prime Ministers security to think it was time to remove her from the situation, and in her wisdom she felt it was a good ideas to extract the Leader of the Opposition as well.

Most Australians are concerned that staff from the Prime Ministers Office were involved in this episode, and most of us would like to believe that the Prime Minister was not involved at all. Tony Hodges has dutifully fallen on his sword and at some stage one presumes that through the good offices of the ALP and the Union movement his skill and talent will no doubt once again be employed.

It does however raise the question of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. For forty years it has been a part of national life, though it came and went a few times, it existence for the most part has made seemingly very little conscious impact on the life of everyday Australians. None the less without the presence of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy one imagines that a number of the advances would perhaps not have been achieved.

English: Invasion Day protest at the Aborigina...
Image via Wikipedia

The question that I guess a lot of us want to ask is about the purpose and the future of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, given the importance and the impact that they have had to date, what are the things they still seek tho achieve.

I was pleased to find that they have a website, http://www.aboriginaltentembassy.net and from there I was able to thing these things that they still have on their agenda.

  • A sovereign treaty is the only mechanism in law by which our sovereignty can be recognised.
  • A sovereign treaty is negotiated between equals
  • A sovereign treaty is automatically in the constitution
  • A sovereign treaty overrides state and federal laws
  • A sovereign treaty must never extinguish aboriginal rights but enshrine and protect our rights for ever, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
  • With all domestic options exhausted, a sovereign treaty is our only peaceful way to justice
  • There can be no reconciliation without a sovereign treaty.

Seven points made in all and the term ‘sovereign treaty’ exists in seven of them, so one must assume that this is a key component of what the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is about. As far as I can work out a sovereign treaty is a treaty signed by two sovereign states. The impetus of a sovereign state is the fundamental right to political self determination. The force of the British Colonisation of Australia was based on an assumption of “Terra Nullius“. This presumption went unchecked through federation and beyond, not I suspect for any other reason than our forebears had no other idea to work by. I understand that the Mabo case rightly debunked the ‘Terra Nullius” myth and instilled a sense of ‘native title’.

I have great respect for the people of this land, yet I also realise that many generations of ‘boat people’ starting with the people the English threw out of home, and they too have made this place home, admittedly a different kind of home to the home that it was, and some of of was arrogant, and some of it was stupid, and a good deal of it was well intended and good hearted, and these people are also now part of this land.

I am sure we need to find more respect, and greater honour for each other if we seek to find a way that makes this work. I am not in my own mind sure how you negotiate a retrospective treaty. I am not enough of a lawyer to know what the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties really means. Perhaps for me the things I would like to understand a little more clearly is the nature and meaning of aboriginal rights, and why those right might be different from any other Australian’s rights. I would want to see justice for all, however that may be a bit to motherhood.

None the less, I conclude that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy has achieved a lot in forty years, for which I am glad. We done my friends and fellow Australians. Perhaps we now need more words that we can read and understand so that we can move froward together. I am sorry that the important milestone of your fortieth anniversary has seen you played off a break for stupid political ends. Perhaps we all need to be a little smarter.

Good luck my friends for the way ahread.


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