Police "PR," Australia style

Australia is agog.

"Prime Minister attacked by wild mob." "Gillard saved from Aboriginal riot by police." Lurid media stories are accompanied by photos of Prime Minister Julia Gillard being hauled through a crowd of police, losing her shoe, stumbling and falling at one point, being shoved into a car, and hauled to "safety."

The Prime Minister was at an awards ceremony of some sort in Canberra on Australia Day, when participants in an Aboriginal Tent Embassy found out Tony Abbott was also there. Abbott is the Federal Opposition Leader in a Parliament very closely divided, with Gillard's Labour Party hanging on by one vote. Abbott is known for walking around with his foot in his mouth most of the time, his opposition to carbon taxes, and for his support of coal-seam gas mining in Australia.

He's also the yob who's been objecting to the Federal Government's campaign to remove the part of Australia's constitution that allows the states to make laws based on race. This has been a long time coming—the Federal Government's official apology to Aboriginal peoples for all that had happened to them since white settlers first appeared in Oz, and its promise to remove the very clauses in question, were made more than 40 years ago.

But Abbott's objected publicly, saying he's not in favour of a "one-clause bill of rights," whatever that means. (I say, If he's unsatisfied with a clause, give him a few chapters.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Abbott's not known among Aboriginal Australians as a champion. Denizens of the Tent Embassy, then, were understandably miffed at his musings about what should happen to their protest.

A bit of history. The Tent Assembly has been in existence off and on since 1972. It was originally set up to act as the official embassy of the Aboriginal nation, and has served as the fulcrum for the efforts of Aboriginal peoples to have their rights recognized by the Australian Parliament, and Australians generally. (The Tent Embassy is also featured in an exhibit of Aboriginal art at the Australian National Museum in Sydney.) My understanding is that Aboriginal peoples say it will be removed when their rights are recognized to their satisfaction.

I'm guessing Aboriginal people in Australia generally think it's not for Abbott to decide.

Australia's national holiday, Australia Day, is celebrated on the day when it is generally thought the first ship full of settlers landed on the coast, and set up residences. Perhaps not surprisingly, Aboriginal peoples view the creation of the Australian state as an invasion, in much the same way that Palestinians view the creation of the Israeli state as a naqba ("disaster"), American Indians consider the "discovery of America" to be the beginning of a "conquest," etc.

In other words, as Australians celebrate, Aboriginals experience different feelings.

So the atmosphere before this year's Oz Day was already emotionally charged before Abbott stuck his oar in.

Upon hearing that Abbott was at the restaurant, up to 1,000 protesters marched there, and a few dozen surrounded the restaurant, which featured ceiling-high external glass, some pounding on them. Pissed off, I'd say. At some point, the police decided the protest was a "threat," cleared a way through it, and dragged Gillard to her car. (No one has elaborated on police efforts to negotiate their way out of the "threat," and so I expect there weren't any.)

Why did they decide the protest was a threat to the Prime Minister? The protesters were mad at Abbott, not her. Weird. But Abbott plays in very little of the media coverage. It's almost as if he didn't matter.

And why, after "clearing" a path to the Prime Minister's car, did they then feel they had to drag her through it?

There's some video here. Do you see anyone other than cops in the vicinity of Gillard as she's dragged to the car? If the way had been "cleared," as has been asserted by many commentators, even right-wing ones (such as one from Adelaide's putrid Advertiser, their equivalent to the Toronto Sun), why couldn't she have just walked to the car? The "violence" she was "terrified" of, was almost all at the hands of police and bodyguards, and directed at her.

Well, let's see. We now have photos and video spread around the world which portray Australia's first female Prime Minister as a helpless sniveller, being "saved" by the men around her. This occurs at a time when her government could fall at any minute, there's anti-Aboriginal racism in the air (today's media are now quoting members of the Labour Party as saying that Abbott had made a good point), and Abbott's preparing himself for the Prime Ministership.

Gillard was quoted afterward as praising the police "who helped them from a building which was being targeted by protesters." (No word on whether she's re-thought whether it was really necessary.) So now that she's on record as praising cops for actions that were idiotic, she's stuck there.

The staffer who told the protesters that Abbott was in the building has been fired.

Frankly, I think Gillard got snookered into creating some bad PR for herself.

For the cops? Win-win-win. Julia's all but gone now.

Here's the admirable Crikey on the subject.

All this provokes again the question we've needed answers to for about 30 years now. What's the point of having Labour parties, if they won't stand up for people's rights? If they won't talk to protesters. If they won't.

-end-

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