Indigenous Australians have a lot to be angry about, much more than Tony Abbott’s ill timed call for indigenous Australia to ‘move on’ from the idea of the tent embassy.
While Abbott’s choice of Australia Day / Invasion Day (and the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy’s erection) was poorly considered and rightfully attacked, there are much larger issues for indigenous Australia to be angry about.
Indigenous Australians should be angry that the life expectancy of indigenous people is 15 – 20 years less than that of non indigenous Australians. They should be angry that the disease rate of indigenous people is 3 times higher than non indigenous people. They should be angry that indigenous people are 25% of the nation’s prison population, despite making up only 2.5% of the national population. They should be angry that 29% of young indigenous people are not earning or learning, compared with 9% of non indigenous people. They should be angry that indigenous people earn 62% of what non indigenous people earn. And they should be angry that they can be kicked to death in police custody, tasered 41 times in police custody and have the army sent into their communities, to be used as a political tool of a federal government.
Indigenous Australians should also be angry that alcoholism is rife in their communities. They should be angry that domestic violence, drug abuse and sexual abuse are problems in their communities. They should be angry at the state of housing, education, health and work ethic in their communities. And they should be angry that their children are growing up in these environments.
They have much to be angry about – at both white and black Australia.
Setting fire to the Australian flag on the steps of Parliament House is one way of expressing that anger. It is not a particularly beneficial or smart way of expressing anger, but it is understandable when coming from a teenager, who may or may not have been raised with the disadvantages mentioned above. More importantly, the action is not supported by or representative of, wider indigenous Australia, as some would have you believe.
A better way to express anger would be like Senior Australian of the Year, Laurie Baymarrwangga, who has dedicated her life to improving the lot of her people. Other ways would be to help those in need in indigenous communities, come out against men who beat their wives or abuse children or abuse grog, stand up to racists, dedicate yourself to school or any chance at education you get, join or start a community group, eat healthier, don’t allow your cause to be hijacked by career protestors, get organised, become an activist / advocate / politician, lobby politicians, write a blog, study and promote indigenous languages & culture, play sport, lead by positive example and so on… then positive changes will come to the lives of indigenous people and their communities, as shown by Laurie Baymarrwangga.
So what of the tent embassy? The land rights struggle, that the tent embassy was largely set up for, has been over since Mabo, Wik and the Native Title Act of the 1990’s. The embassy does not carry the political significance or power it once did and its contemporary importance amongst young indigenous people is questionable. Additionally, important symbolic steps have been taken to reconcile indigenous Australia with mainstream Australia, most notably Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology in parliament. Nevertheless, it should remain.
Whenever time is called on the tent embassy it should not simply be packed up, swept away and forgotten about, like the Occupy protest camps of last year. It should be permanently commemorated and be closed voluntarily, because the problems mentioned above are nothing more than a distant memory for indigenous Australians.