Local Aboriginal elders and leaders have condemned the actions of protesters who allegedly set fire to the doors of the Old Parliament House in Canberra.
- The doors to the old parliament building were lit yesterday for the second time in two weeks as protesters demonstrated outside
- The fire is believed to have started during a smoking ceremony, which Ngunnawal spokeswoman Caroline Hughes says was not sanctioned by local elders
- The Aboriginal tent embassy has condemned the protesters’ alleged actions by starting the fire
The building’s front façade was first set on fire on December 21, forcing the Museum of Australian Democracy to close temporarily.
Yesterday’s fire is believed to have started after a smoking ceremony carried out by protesters who had been approved by ACT Policing to continue.
The fire was extinguished within 20 minutes after ACT Fire and Rescue arrived at the scene and authorities said the building suffered minimal internal damage.
After the fire was extinguished, several dozen protesters continued to confront police officers and media outside the building.
Aboriginal Tent Embassy condemns the actions of protesters
People have gathered outside the building ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal tent embassy, which was established on Australia Day in 1972.
But the Tent Embassy has issued a statement saying it does not tolerate the actions of the protesters or the destruction of public and private property.
Further, they said the smoking ceremony was conducted without the knowledge, consent or mandate of the Tent Embassy Council.
Ngambri Ngunnawal elder Matilda House-Williams also issued a statement condemning the protesters’ actions, saying she believes in respectful dialogue as a means of supporting Australians living on Ngunnawal land.
“As guardians of the ACT and the surrounding region, my family is always open to respectful dialogue, to supporting and caring for the many men, women and their families who are here in our beautiful countries.”
Mrs House-Williams said the fire at yesterday’s protest did not represent the Aboriginal community in Canberra and she was disappointed that the protesters allegedly did not communicate with the elders at the tent embassy.
“I am disappointed that these protesters chose to disregard cultural protocols and not communicate with myself or other seniors in my family,” Ms. House-Williams said.
‘The last thing we want’
Ngunnawal spokeswoman Caroline Hughes told ABC Radio Canberra that peaceful protests were important to give the indigenous community a voice, but said she did not support the destruction of property.
Hughes also noted that the smoking ceremony, which is believed to have started the fire, was not approved by the United Ngunnawal Elders Council.
“I support peaceful protest, we need to have a voice for Aboriginal community, and the Aboriginal tent embassy is one of our voices, which is important, however. [I] not support the destruction of public property, “she said.
“I would like to point out that this is the Ngunnawal country, the signs around the ACT are very clear and to my knowledge there has been no dialogue with the United Ngunnawal Elders Council.
Mrs Hughes said she understood and supported the Aboriginal tent embassy in condemning the destruction of property and stressed the importance of a positive dialogue between the First Nations people and the wider Australian community.
“I support the Tent Embassy in distancing itself from this. Burning public property is not healthy and sets the wrong stage for our voices out there in society,” she said.
“As Ngunnawal people, we love our people, and we are the host of people who come to our countries here at ACT, and I’m sure other Ngunnawal people are disappointed. [too].
She acknowledged why some Australians may have concerns about the embassy following the alleged actions of the protest, but reminded Australians of the conditions for indigenous peoples around the country that may have given rise to them.
“I know people have concerns and would like to see the tent embassy in a different perspective, but it highlights the conditions for our people, which still occur across Australia today, where there are Aboriginal communities living in third world conditions,” she said.
“You know we work too, we pay our taxes, which go to support our properties throughout Australia, including our old Parliament House, and so it’s important that a positive dialogue emerges.
‘Terrible and scandalous’: Prime Minister
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also spoke about the fire in the old parliament building and called the protesters’ alleged actions “shameful”.
“I am disgusted and shaken by the behavior that would see the Australians come and set fire to such a symbol of democracy in this country,” he said.
“I just think it’s appalling and I think it’s shameful and I think the authorities need to act quickly and in accordance with the law and people need to take the consequences of their actions.
Morrison also said that although he acknowledged that it had been a difficult year for Australians, there was still a lot to celebrate about being an Australian.
“It’s been really hard [this year]”But you know we live in one of the largest countries in the world,” he said.
“We enjoy freedom here. We enjoy a health care system. We enjoy freedoms that few countries enjoy to the same extent as we do and have over such a long period of time.
The Australian Museum of Democracy in the Old Parliament House is currently closed as staff clean up and assess the damage. There is no set date for the reopening.
The original doors from 1927 have been damaged by fire, and it is not yet known if they are scary.
Any other damage to historic parts of the building or artifacts inside are not yet known, but the collection is believed to be largely undamaged.