Gillard ‘Angry’ as Australian Opposition Calls for Canberra Protest Probe

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed anger at opposition demands for an inquiry over her government’s role in clashes between police and aboriginal protesters in Canberra on Australia Day.

A media aide to Gillard resigned Jan. 27 for disclosing opposition leader Tony Abbott’s location at a restaurant in the national capital, information that was passed on to protest organizers. Security officers rushed Gillard and Abbott from the venue, where they were attending a function, as dozens of demonstrators banged on the windows.

Gillard, who trails Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in opinion polls, had her parliamentary majority reduced to one seat last week when an independent lawmaker withdrew his support saying she’d broken a pledge to tighten gambling laws. The ruling Labor Party, which faces a general election by 2013, received a boost when a Galaxy poll published today showed its support had climbed five percentage points from October.

The Australian Federal Police won’t investigate the disclosure of Abbott’s location as there is no evidence of a criminal act, it said in a statement today. That comes after Abbott yesterday told reporters the prime minister’s office “has done the wrong thing,” and “let’s give her a chance to do the right thing” with an inquiry. Gillard has said no other member of her office was involved in passing information.

Abbott’s calls typify “his tendency to go too far,” Gillard said Jan. 28 at a news conference in Melbourne. “For it to be insinuated that I would play some role in disrupting an event to recognize Australians who had performed miracles during a natural disaster is deeply offensive.”

The federal police “should automatically be reviewing their own processes and procedures,” the opposition coalition’s Christopher Pyne said in an interview broadcast on Sky News yesterday. “But also the prime minister should want to get to the bottom of who is responsible for what happened.”

Tent Embassy

The Canberra protest took place on Jan. 26, the Australia Day holiday marking the arrival of white settlers in the country. Demonstrators were responding to Abbott’s comment earlier in the day, when he replied it’s probably “time to move on” in the debate for the need to an Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which has been standing for 40 years in front of the nation’s former parliament house.

Gillard and Abbott were spirited away in government cars to cries of “racist” and “shame” from the protesters. As Gillard was taken from the building she stumbled and lost her shoe. Members of the Tent Embassy later found the footwear and returned it.

Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal people populated Australia at least 50,000 years before Europeans arrived. Aborigines remain the poorest and most disadvantaged group in Australian society more than 200 years after Europeans settled in 1788.

There are about 400,000 indigenous Australians, who make up 2 percent of the population. Australia Day marks the date in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the first fleet of convict ships from Britain, landed in Sydney Cove, the site of the modern-day city. Many Aborigines and their supporters refer to the date as Invasion Day.

Gillard will concentrate on Australia’s economic performance when she addresses the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce this week, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported yesterday, citing an unidentified official.

“We’re situated in the region of the world that continues to experience economic growth and will during the course of this century, and that gives us particular opportunities for the future,” Gillard said at a news conference in Melbourne yesterday with visiting New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.

Asia Growth

Australia is “looking how we can win in this Asian century of economic growth and so we can be prepared for that economic growth,” she said.

Australia’s economy will expand 3.7 percent in 2012, the fastest pace among Group of 10 nations, according to strategists surveyed by Bloomberg, as benchmark interest-rate cuts boost consumer confidence and a resources boom spurs record exports. China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, may have economic growth of 8.4 percent this year, compared with 2.5 percent globally and a 0.3 percent contraction in the euro area, the World Bank said Jan. 18.

“Our economy is now 7 percent larger than it was before the global financial crisis, while many other advanced economies are yet to make up the ground they lost,” Treasurer Wayne Swan said in his weekly note yesterday. “We’re uniquely placed to deal with the worst the world can throw at us.”

To contact the reporter for this story: Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at

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