From what I can gather from media sources, this morning over thirty people were arrested at Brisbane’s Musgrave Park after refusing to leave the area. A few weeks ago, the organisers of the upcoming annual Greek Festival asked for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that occupies Musgrave Park to be emptied for the duration of the event. Brisbane City Council then issued that request to the indigenous group occupying the embassy. This request caused much distress, and amounted in a large protest, climaxing today. 200 police officers turned up at Musgrave Park this morning, and have since been fighting a losing battle to keep things calm and to evict the protestors. The protestors have since apparently left the park. As I type, they are currently marching through the CBD. Up until this morning, the protesters had been peaceful.
While police were present at the site before dawn, the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk didn’t make an appearance or release an official statement until approximately 11am. He was notably absent from the fiery comments that raged on Twitter, as was Premier Campbell Newman. Brisbane City Council released a statement on Facebook. Here’s an extract:
Council has been engaged in ongoing talks with the protest group, and has been understanding of the groups wishes to protest since they began on March 12 2012 and unfortunately the protestors have refused Council’s offer to relocate to another area.
Council has been supportive of the group throughout the demonstration period by allowing the protestors to express their views. However, with the group refusing to nominate an end date for the protest, it has been determined it is time for them to move on so the park can be used by all communities in Brisbane.
The notion of ‘nominating an end date’ for one’s protest represents the most profound lack of understanding of this complex issue, and displays the Council’s fantastic ignorance of the matter at hand. The Council’s language here is patronising (‘you’ve had your say now go somewhere else’), and just plain incorrect (the ‘and’ in the first sentence should be a ‘but’). A protest of this nature doesn’t end. It will go on until a solution is reached. Moving the protest to somewhere less public is not a solution. It’s censorship, and it’s wrong.
When Lord Mayor Graham Quirk did appear at the site, his statement had similar slips into the bizzarre. While making continuous offers to move the protest, and diplomatically stating that this incident is not indicative of Brisbane’s indigenous relationships overall, he went on to comment on the protestors specifically:
They are professional protesters, they are well known. And I just say this. I do not want the people of Brisbane to look at what has happened today and to view this as reflecting on the broader indigenous community in Brisbane,” he said.
“It does not. We are dealing with professional protesters and it is time that they moved on.”
He declined to elaborate on them.
“I think they are well known, they have made media commentary in the past, they have a record of involvement and I will leave it at that.”
Cr Quirk’s comments here are enigmatic, ill-timed, and are in danger of being mis con-strewed. Cr Quirk is flirting dangerously with racism. Is he saying that he’s fine and dandy with indigenous people, just not the ones that protest for their rights?
The matter’s now moved beyond a sensible discourse. With State Parliament opening today, protestors now look to Parliament House.
Blog comment boards and Facebook posts have inevitably lit up with their fair share of complete numb-skulled comments. Underlying a lot of those opposed to the protests seems to be a feeling that white Australians have somehow been ripped off. The law is the law, and no person should be allowed to squat on public land. Just because they’re indigenous, some people ask, does that mean they’re exempt from the law?
No. They’re not. But sometimes the law is wrong. And when we believe laws are wrong in this country, we have the human right to peacefully protest in a public area. And here, the law is wrong. When a place occupies as much spiritual and historical significane as Musgrave Park does, we should respect that sensitivity. We are walking in their church. We need to display sensitivity towards that. We are guests. Making enigmatic and unclear statements on the back of the deployment of two hundred police is not the ideal way to display that sensitivity. It’s an act of monstrous stupidity.
The year is 2012. This morning, police were deployed to cease a protest conducted by indigenous people on public land. We have so far to go. And based on this morning’s performance, in a matter that required urgent and delicate diplomacy, Cr. Graham Quirk behaved with the table manners of a petulant two year old. It is a crime against decency and appeals to the lowest and most violent common denominator. There should be an inquiry into what happend (and what is still happening) today, but it won’t occur. Within a week, this will be forgotten in the mainstream media cycle, and Cr. Quirk can go back to thinking he has a good relationship with indigenous elders.
Who are we, as Australians, that we let this happen? Every year we increase our patriotism around our fallen diggers. We pay homage to our history. Why then are we so keen to forget our other history, where thousands were killed, raped and abandoned? Our response is so couched in denial that we revert to the political discourse of children. We fight our battles with policemen and clinical bureaucracy. As a country, some of us have fought so hard to prove that we are above this. That we are committed to moving forward. Those of us like Cr. Graham Quirk seem destined to keep us rooted in our colonial pasts, while refusing to acknowledge that that colonialism still exists, and Australia wrestles with it daily. One day, we will overcome it, but it is already too late.