Head of Commonwealth Games Federation visits Aboriginal protest camp on Gold Coast

8 Apr 2018

The top Commonwealth Games official met with Aboriginal protestors at the site of their base camp north of Surfers Paradise for around two hours yesterday to hear a range of concerns, including an account of events that occurred outside the gates of the opening ceremony last Wednesday that led to three arrests.

Gold Coast Stolenwealth Games protest

The Gold Coast Stolenwealth Games protest marches along the Surfers Paradise foreshore. Photograph: Supplied

The top Commonwealth Games official met with Aboriginal protestors at the site of their base camp north of Surfers Paradise for around two hours yesterday to hear a range of concerns, including an account of events that occurred outside the gates of the opening ceremony last Wednesday that led to three arrests.

David Grevemberg, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation spent the afternoon mingling with protestors at the StolenWealth Games base camp in Doug Jennings park at the end of The Spit on Saturday. The issues brought to the attention of Grevemberg included dwindling available water supplies within the camp, the renewal of a special camp permit for the protest site, and the attitudes of the Queensland police at a demonstration outside the Game’s main arena during the opening ceremony.

Grevemberg vowed to make enquiries regarding the supply of additional water stores for portable toilet and shower amenities within the protest camp and to seek some clarity around the events that led to the detention and arrest of the three protestors outside Carrara Stadium on the opening night of the Games. Renewal of the special camping permit remained a matter for the city council and the Games organising committee, he says.

As head of the organising committee for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games Grevemberg implemented what he describes as “the first human rights approach of any major sporting event”. He says those initiatives are also now a significant objective of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

David Greveberg at Camp Freedom

Commonwealth Games Federation chief David Greveberg met with members of the StolenWealth Games base camp for around two hours on Saturday afternoon. Photograph: Supplied.

“We’ve tried to really get an active public discourse going around the sorts of issues I’ve heard here today,” he says. “Where have we been? And where do we go? It’s really interesting because when you ask people what they perceive as their modern Commonwealth, we usually get answers in three areas. One of those is respect for the perceived leaders within the history of the Commonwealth, a sense of duty, service and sacrifice to everyone from Bob Marley to Nelson Mandela to Mahatma Ghandi. People who have sought and struggled for freedom and fairness. We’ve got this complex, sometimes ugly history, but it’s still a shared and defining history. We can’t escape it, so we want to encourage a public discourse to work towards resolving it. We want to take that elephant out of the corner of the room and place it in the centre. That conversation is how the Commonwealth will unit and come together.”

Grevemberg was unable to provide any clarity on the events that eventuated in last Wednesday’s arrest of three StolenWealth Games protestors, which included two activists from the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) and a 20-years old Northern Territory man. Each has been charged with public nuisance and must attend the local magistrate’s court in late April and early May.

Protestors say clashes with Queensland police ensued after a select delegation of 10 protest group representatives were promised entry to the stadium during the ceremony, only to have the agreed upon tickets revoked by Games ticketing marshals when the delegation arrived at the arena’s entry gates. The ambiguity about what happened has led to some protestors speculating that the offer was a ploy by Queensland police to seperate nominated leaders of the protest from the main group, who they say remained detained within a fenced section of a rain sodden sporting oval opposite the stadium.

There could be further clashes between Queensland police and Aboriginal protestors early next week after provisions for a special camping permit at Doug Jennings park may have breached an agreement with police and Games negotiators by a sit-in action that delayed the Game’s baton relay last Wednesday morning.

The special camping permit, granted before the games commenced, only extends to April 9, midway through the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Renewal of the permit for the remainder of the games is contingent on the camp’s compliance to the conditions within the agreement, says one protest camp organiser.

Another protest camp organiser says other parts of the agreed strategies in place with Games negotiators and Queensland police included access to certain Games event precincts and guaranteed mainstream media exposure for the protest, as well as publicity meetings with key Games organisers and guests. These aspects of the agreement strategy may also have been jeopardised.

The visit to the camp by Grevemberg follows a brief meeting between four protest representatives and the head of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games organising committee, Peter Beattie. That meeting resulted in undertakings by Beattie to take the camp’s Statement of Reason to the QLD state government.

David Greveberg group shot

David Greveberg (second from left) joined protest camp leaders and Indigenous police liaisons officers for a group photo at Doug Jennings Park camp site on Saturday afternoon. Photograph: Supplied.

“They have given me their statement of reason and as promised, I’ve passed that along to the QLD state government and I’ve asked for that to be passed – through the appropriate director-general – onto the federal government, which is what they asked me to do,” says Beattie.

“What I’m really trying to do is, because I’m not in government anymore, is encourage some government ministers to visit the camp and talk with them. I think that is more meaningful  than me going along. I’m not premier or in politics anymore,” he says. “What I’ve suggested to two senior ministers is that they go up there.

I think there will be some direct discussion with the state government, but in the end I hope the federal government will respond. Many of the things the protest group are calling for are done at a national level.

in the end this is really about respect. They made it clear that they are not interested in disrupting the Games in anyway. They just want their voice heard and they’re entitled in the democracy in which we live to do that.”

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