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Australian Capital Territory: future of Aboriginal tent embassy at Old Parliament House is being reviewed.



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PETER CAVE: The Federal Government has confirmed it’s reviewing the future of the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra. Territories Minister, Ian Macdonald, has enacted a trespass law from the 1930s to clear the way for the removal of cars and other unofficial structures around Parliament House. Sally Sara reports.

 

SALLY SARA: The Aboriginal tent embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House began 27 years ago, but now a law which dates back twice as far could threaten the embassy’s future. The 1932 Trespass Ordinance has been given new life by the Federal Government. Territories Minister, Ian Macdonald, has gazetted the land in the parliamentary triangle. That means the Commonwealth will have the power to remove unofficial structures or vehicles. But Ian Macdonald says it’s not an undercover plan to remove the tent embassy.

 

IAN MACDONALD:  Not only is there no secret plan, there’s no plan at all. What I’ve indicated is that I am being briefed on the buildings out the front of Parliament House; I’m trying to get some advice on what they are about and how they come to be there; and I’m consulting with a wide range of people on what the future might be. It’s something that I want to continue to look at during this year and, to that end, I’m getting myself fully briefed on the matter.

 

SALLY SARA: This morning, down at the tent embassy, Aboriginal leaders were already unhappy. They’ll hold a formal press conference later today to outline their concerns. Previous attempts to shut down the embassy have led to clashes with police. In 1972, there was an ongoing battle over the site involving large demonstrations, but Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Daryl Melham, is already warning there could be more trouble if the embassy is threatened. He says any such action would undermine any government attempts at reconciliation.

 

DARYL MELHAM: There can be no reconciliation while you continue to wind back programs, while you continue to put Aboriginal people in the middle as a political football, and while you continue to blind them. Now, this is a peaceful protest. I think it is symbolic that it stays because there’s a lot more that needs to be done in the area, and I think all the Prime Minister and his henchmen will do if they go down this path is galvanise the community, and that’s the last thing we want in the lead-up to the Olympics, in the lead-up to the centenary of Federation. This is just an act of lunacy and Ian Macdonald should be put back in his box by the Prime Minister.

 

SALLY SARA: But the Government will push ahead to explore its options. Ian Macdonald says the future of the site needs to be clarified because of a Heritage Commission listing which was imposed on the site under the Labor Government in 1995.

 

IAN MACDONALD:  Well, I’m saying the Heritage Commission listing of the site difficult to understand in the way it’s worded, but again that’s something I’m having discussions with the Heritage Commission about, and the whole question of the buildings in front of Old Parliament House is something that I’ll be looking at in the course of the year.

 

SALLY SARA: So for now, the tent embassy appears to be staying where it is. The fires on the lawns of Old Parliament House continue and a mural winds a large pattern on the stone forecourt. It’s become a regular stop-off for backpackers wandering the parliamentary triangle, but it still remains out of view of new Parliament House.

 

MONICA ATTARD:  Sally Sara reporting there.