AUSTRALIAN premier Julia Gillard was left visibly shaken yesterday after running the gauntlet of Aboriginal protesters who lambasted her with chants of “racist” on Australia Day.
Emotions were running high after opposition Liberal leader Tony Abbott said it was time for Aboriginal protesters camped outside the Canberra parliament for decades to move on.
Ms Gillard was with Mr Abbott at an Australia Day awards ceremony at a restaurant in the capital when ambushed.
The two leaders were trapped in the restaurant for up to half and hour after 200 protesters stormed its entrance, shouting “shame” and “racist”.
Eventually, a clearly terrified Ms Gillard was shepherded out of a side door by her personal bodyguard, followed by Mr Abbott. She lost a shoe in the confusion before being bundled into the back of her official car, with Mr Abbott hard on her heels.
Protesters then chased the car, banging on its roof and bonnet.
A conversation between Ms Gillard and her security team inside the restaurant was captured by Australian news cameras. Her bodyguards were concerned the glass walls would cave in under the force of the protesters’ onslaught. “We feel that the situation is deteriorating and can’t stay much longer,” a member of the security team said.
“What about Mr Abbott? Where have you got him?” Ms Gillard asked. “We’d better help him through, too, hadn’t we?”
For many Aborigines, Australia Day – celebrating to arrival of Captain James Cook on the continent – is considered Invasion Day. Tensions boiled over after Mr Abbott, speaking earlier in Sydney, said he understood why the Tent Embassy, on the lawn of Old Parliament House in Canberra, was set up 40 years ago.
But he added: “I think a lot has changed for the better since then. I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian. A lot has changed since then, and I think it is probably time to move on from that.”
Earlier, embassy founder Michael Anderson addressed a rally at the tent site. “To hell with the government and the courts in this country. You haven’t got a high hope to take us on,” he said. “We will force these issues.
“Too many of our families have suffered for some b*****d to get in the road.”
Mr Anderson said Mr Abbott’s comments were disrespectful.
“He said the aboriginal embassy had to go, we heard it on a radio broadcast,” he said. “We thought, no way, so we circled around the building.”
He said protesters wanted the leaders to clarify their positions and whether Mr Abbott was serious about removing the embassy. “You’ve got 1,000 people here peacefully protesting and to make a statement about tearing down the embassy, it’s just madness on the part of Tony Abbott,” he said. “What he said amounts to inciting racial riots.”
Later, Ms Gillard said she was fine but said she just felt it was pity that the protest spoiled the earlier ceremony.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, Mick Gooda, said he was appalled at the near riot.
He said: “An aggressive, divisive and frightening protest such as this has no place in debates about our affairs.”