WA Tent Embassy 'to be as big as Canberra': Protesters

Brian Wyatt
WA Tent Embassy 'to be as big as Canberra', protesters claim.

AAP Perth Now February 08, 2012

Activists against the proposed south-west native title deal have established an Aboriginal tent embassy outside the grounds of Western Australia's parliament.

Mirroring Canberra's well-known establishment, the move followed today's protests in adjacent Kings Park that led to a security scare for Premier Colin Barnett as people voiced disapproval to his proposed $1 billion deal to settle native title claims over the state's south-west.

Soon after the premier was escorted by security guards to his car amid angry scenes, the protesters turned their attention to a grass area outside Parliament House, erecting a two-man tent with an Aboriginal flag and a placard reading "Nyoongar Tent E

Noongar Aboriginal activist Marianne Mackay, who was at the recent Australia Day protest in Canberra, said the tent was a precursor to establishing a permanent site.

"What we've done today is establish the foundation for what we're going to do over the coming weeks, months and years," she said.

"We're going to be establishing a tent embassy, we're organising a Facebook site so we can get at least 500 to 1000 signatures, and we can all have a proper community meeting to decide where the tent embassy is going to go and remain."

While the small tent outside parliament was later removed, Ms Mackay pledged to return with a bigger structure.

"It can be huge - it could be as big as the one in Canberra," she said.

"When we establish the permanent tent embassy, it will be there until we get what we're fighting for.

"It could be there for years."

Ms Mackay said the move was prompted by the ongoing dispute between the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council and local Aboriginal elders over how to settle native title claims with the state government.

"For years the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council have misrepresented our people," she said.

"You can see from the crowds that we had today a lot of people don't agree with the deal that's been put on the table."

Years of mistrust leads to much fear

Colleen Egan West Australian February 9th, 2012

While the loud and abusive demonstrators got most of the attention outside the State Reception Centre yesterday, clusters of quiet protesters became more and more confused.

News of a $1 billion deal hit the headlines on Saturday and rumours surrounding it have spread through the Noongar grapevine like wildfire.

The underlying message: they have been sold out.

"The flag will mean nothing, we won't be able to fly it," a group of middle-aged women from Perth and the South West told each other. "If the land council signs off on that deal with Barnett today we will lose all of our heritage, we won't have a say in our rivers or lakes or sacred sites or historical sites."

The women conceded that they didn't know the detail of the offer, which has the potential to increase Noongar land holdings by more than 100,000ha and improve access and control of important cultural sites.

The women had family members as delegates inside the meeting.

"Our sister is in there, our husband is in there; the rest of us are out here," one said. "Half the people in there don't know what's going on either.

"We've heard they're selling us out, they're not telling us the whole thing. We won't be able to fly the flag, do the opening ceremony like at the Olympic Games, events, NAIDOC Week, which every blackfella across Australia celebrates."

As the South West Land and Sea Council chief executive Glen Kelly attempts to gain support for the complex State Government offer and agree on individual land parcels and cultural aims, he must confront misinformation and mistrust as much as anger and abuse.

"We heard that Glen Kelly's resigning today, this is his last day," one of the women said. "Why did he sign off the big deal with Colin Barnett and then just run away?"

For the record, Mr Kelly has not resigned.

"Some of the protesters are completely paranoid," he said.

The Noongar people have had little to look forward to since settlement in 1829. If this offer is as good as both the Government and SWALSC say it is, they must conquer many years of mistrust to succeed.

WA Labor MP condemns rowdy anti-government protest

David Weber ABC AM February 9th, 2012


TONY EASTLEY: A West Australian Aboriginal member of parliament has condemned a rowdy native title protest in Perth, saying those involved were a "fringe minority".

About 50 people protested outside a venue where Indigenous people were inside discussing a State Government offer to provide a billion dollars in benefits in return for the extinguishment of native title in the south-west.

In scenes reminiscent of the Australia Day protest in Canberra, protesters thumped on the windows and yelled abuse, delaying the Premier Colin Barnett's departure from the venue.

Reporter David Weber is in Perth.

DAVID WEBEER: Some protesters were abusive.

(Sound of yelling)

And about a dozen protesters banged on the windows of the venue when they saw the Premier inside.

(Sound of banging)

After the protesters placed themselves between the Premier and his car, state security arranged for Colin Barnett to use one of the other exits.

Aboriginal MP and shadow treasurer, Ben Wyatt, says the public may be left with a distorted impression.

BEN WYATT: The protesters at Kings Park are expressing a view that I think really is the fringe minority of most Noongar people.

It is not helpful to have groups who are from my perspective appear confused and not even understanding the reason why they were protesting to be denigrating and abusing those Noongar people who want to participate in the negotiations with the State Government, and then to make over the top and offensive allegations against the Premier and his ministers.

DAVID WEBEER: Is there any validity to be attached to anger or passion I suppose, reacting against the concept that Indigenous people may be forced to sign away their native title rights?

BEN WYATT: People can be angry, people can protest, and people can express passion. However what I don't accept for a minute is a group of Aboriginal people abusing and denigrating other Aboriginal people - Noongar, senior Noongar elders who want to negotiate an outcome with the Government.

That's not the way Aboriginal people should be conducting themselves and it just simply furthers that small redneck view that still sits out there in society of Aboriginal people and it's not a view that I subscribe to nor will I ever accept that one group of Aboriginal people can make themselves more Aboriginal, or more entitled to negotiate than others.

DAVID WEBEER: Will WA Labor be calling on the Federal Government to make a tangible commitment to this deal?

BEN WYATT: Well I think that the Noongar land claim that the ultimate, hopefully an ultimate settlement with the State Government will be one of the most significant native title settlements in Australia, and I have no doubt that Julia Gillard and Federal Labor will want to be involved in terms of moral support and financial contribution.

TONY EASTLEY: West Australian Labor MP Ben Wyatt speaking to David Weber.