Council's hands tied over Portland Aboriginal Tent Embassy

Sean McComish The Standard 13 March 2013

The Portland Aboriginal Tent Embassy has had a small victory this week, with Glenelg Shire conceding it may not be able to legally challenge the demonstration that has remained pitched at Market Square for more than a year.

Glenelg Shire councillors sought a confidential update last month over what options were available to the council.

Council has continued to take complaints over the embassy's presence in the square but is unable to take either a view or order the removal of the tents.

Mayor Karen Stephens conceded the council was in a tight spot as the matter could only be dealt with by the state and federal governments.

"Council is very restricted in regards to what it can do to resolve the issue," Cr Stephens said.

"Council was advised that the protest group can exercise native title rights in accordance with Gunditjmara law and custom, and have a legal right to occupy Market Square in accordance with these traditional laws and customs."

The Standard was unable to reach campaigners leading the protest yesterday.

The Portland Aboriginal tent embassy was established in February 2012 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first tent embassy outside Parliament House in Canberra.

Organiser Sandra Onus told The Standard last year that tribes, including Yigar, Gilga, Kerrup-Jmara, Kilcarer, Cart Gundidj and Euroite, believed other clans had received preferential native title treatment.

Cr Stephens said council would simply have to wait for an outcome.

"Council will continue to monitor the occupation of Market Square and will continue its ongoing liaison with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria to ensure that all avenues for a resolution of the protest are considered," Cr Stephens said.