It’s time to move on from Australia Day fiasco

It's time to move on from Australia Day fiasco

January 31, 2012

The nation's largest Aboriginal organisation has called on the federal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda to conduct an independent investigation into the actions of police on January 26.

It follows the release of fresh footage of the incident outside the Lobby restaurant in Canberra, which show Australian Federal Police dealing inappropriately with protestors, including inciting and committing violence.

CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Geoff Scott said commentary and actions over the events at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy last week had reached hysterical levels.

"This has been a fiasco from the start. It's a public relations and security disaster," Mr Scott said.

"The actions of police require, at the very least, an independent investigation.

"Some sanity needs to be restored to public debate around this issue. We need to get to the truth."

Mr Scott said having staged a successful celebration march to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tent Embassy only hours earlier, Aboriginal people found themselves in an ugly confrontation with police.

"The available footage of the Prime Minister's exit from the Lobby restaurant clearly shows that police were fending off photographers and journalists, not Aboriginal protestors.

"It's now also clear from new video footage that has emerged that there are some serious questions that need to be addressed about the conduct of officers, particularly -after the Prime Minister and Opposition leader had been removed from the demonstration."

Mr Scott said there were good reasons why Mr Gooda, whose job was created as part of a broad response to the National Inquiry into Racist Violence, should conduct the inquiry.

"We believe Mr Gooda is an appropriate person to conduct an independent investigation for a number of reasons.

"Firstly, there is a long and unfortunate history in this country of police investigations into police actions falling short of the sort of transparency and probity the public demands.

"Secondly, it's only through an independent investigation that we will be able to rule a line under this incident, and move on to talking about the issues that really matter.

"Aboriginal people want to talk about many issues, including economic development, sovereignty, land rights and treaty. These may be uncomfortable issues for the Australian people, but they are issues that must be resolved, sooner rather than later."

Mr Scott added that the political hunt for the scalp of media adviser Tony Hodges was regrettable.

"It's clear that the event was manipulated for political gain. While it back-fired, the resignation of Prime Ministerial adviser Tony Hodges is unfortunate because as we all know, he was simply playing the political game that occurs in Canberra every day. The difference is he got caught.

"I don't believe there was any malice in his actions, or that of the Opposition. It was merely a game of one-upmanship.

"However, Aboriginal people deserve better than being used as a political football, and Mr Hodges deserves better than being made a sacrificial lamb."

Mr Scott also took aim at the media's role in the incident.

"The misreporting of the Opposition Leader's comments also contributed to what occurred, and the journalists' responsible should be called to account for their roll in this fiasco."

NOTE TO MEDIA:

The footage Mr Scott is referring to can be viewed here. The copyright owner of the footage has agreed that all media may use the footage for the purposes of informing any news story. For further details, contact information is below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxYgo_dxjT4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxT7qPosEiI

MEDIA CONTACT:

Chris Graham: 0407 555 328

Chris Munro: 0438 760 242