Tent embassy antics a disaster for the indigenous cause
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The image of the self-appointed spokesman for Aborigines, Paul Coe, holding Prime Minister Julia Gillard's shoe and calling for her to "show an act of good faith" and come to the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra and collect it - when exactly the opposite was required - reminded me of the last time I encountered Coe.
It was on the steps of a court. Coe had just been struck from the roll of barristers for professional misconduct.
The NSW Legal Services Tribunal found he had filed an affidavit, that was "substantially false, was known by him to be false and was sworn with the intention of deceiving the court ... the tribunal has not received from Mr Coe any acknowledgement that he recognises and regrets his wrongdoing ... "
Paul Coe, at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, holds up Julia Gillard's shoe after she lost it during yesterday's protest. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Outside the court, Coe told reporters: "It confirms my view that it is still a white man's world."
I said to him: "You always cry racism when you get caught out."
Coe responded with an expletive and an obscene gesture.
PM dragged from angry mob
Prime Minister Julia Gillard is dragged away by her close protection team police to her car after hundreds of protesters from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy descended on the awards ceremony she was at a few hundred metres away where she was awarding emergency services personnel, in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
I told him he was a charlatan.
A reporter from the ABC apologised to Coe for my remarks.
That was in was 1997. Six years later, in 2003, Coe was again investigated for professional misconduct, for accepting legal fees when he was not licensed to practice.
Now Coe, off the public radar for 15 years, has popped up with the Prime Minister's shoe and is grandstanding with it, even though the shoe was acquired during an act of collective hysteria, hate speech and menace.
The shoe should be returned to Gillard, with apologies, but that would require an act of moral courage. So it's not going to happen.
The mayhem when Gillard lost her shoe may have received abundant publicity, and created an image that went around the world, but it is a disaster for the credibility of the indigenous justice movement in Australia, which has been working with other leading Australians and politicians to put a referendum to voters to recognise indigenous people in the constitution.
Now a fringe has muscled into the media glare, pushing aside the constructive majority. This will stick in the public's mind.
The hysteria was driven by Michael Anderson, a co-founder of the Aboriginal tent embassy near Parliament House in Canberra 40 years ago, who whipped up a crowd of demonstrators about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
This is what Abbott had said during an interview earlier in the day: "Look, I can understand why the tent embassy was established all those years ago. I think a lot has changed for the better since then. We had the historic apology just a few years ago, one of the genuine achievements of Kevin Rudd as prime minister. We had the proposal which is currently for national consideration to recognise indigenous people in the constitution. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and yes, I think a lot has changed since then and I think it probably is time to move on from that."
This is how Anderson characterised Abbott's remarks: "He said the Aboriginal embassy had to go, we heard it on a radio broadcast. We thought no way, so we circled around the building ... It's just madness on the part of Tony Abbott. What he said amounts to inciting racial riots."
The chasm between reality and hysteria is an embarrassment to Anderson.
The irony is that Abbott has spent weeks with indigenous communities searching for ways to end the cycle of failed government policies. He is particularly close to Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson.
A further irony is that indigenous affairs is one area where Gillard and Abbott have put aside their many differences.
It was notable that Gillard, when told her security could not be guaranteed as a gathering of protesters banged on the windows yesterday, made sure to inquire that Abbott, who was also at the ceremony she was attending, would also be looked after.
That has been widely noted, to her credit.