Australia’s tenuous and complicated relationship with its indigenous population came to a head in Canberra on Thursday when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had to flee a mob of protesting aboriginal activists, the Associated Press reported.
Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott were forced to wait for riot police to escort them from an Australia Day event after hundreds of supporters of the city’s Aboriginal Tent Embassy began protesting outside. Protesters banged on the windows of the restaurant, chanting “shame” and “racist,” before police reinforcements arrived and pushed them back.
Gillard and Abbott were attending an event celebrating the official national day and the commemoration of the arrival of the British to the island. For many of indigenous heritage, the day is a controversial holiday — some have even taken to calling it Invasion Day. The Tent Embassy organizes annual protests.
Protesters descended on the convoy as the pair were being escorted to their vehicles, the Associated Press reported. Gillard’s bodyguard can be seen in the below video hustling her from the scene and bundling her into a waiting car. Gillard lost a shoe in the process. The car sped away while protesters ran after it pounding the windows and hood.
Tensions were inflamed after Abbott suggested that the aboriginal activists “move on” on the eve of the Tent Embassy’s 40th anniversary celebration. Embassy co-founder Michael Anderson decried Abbott’s statements as racially insensitive and criticized police for overreacting, the Herald Sun reported.
Other activists condemned the protesters’ actions. Gillard later said she was made of “tough stuff” and lauded the police for their actions. She did not comment on Abbott’s statement or the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
She may be saving her fire for one of the many political battles she and her party are facing. She recently lost her razor-thin Parliamentary majority over a broken promise to reform slot machines, and is facing an impending state election in Queensland where her Labor party is running far behind the opposition in polls. The Queensland election is seen by many as a preamble to big Labor losses in the federal elections next year, and both Gillard and former PM Kevin Rudd have already committed to campaigning for the incumbent Anna Bligh.