Police have asked Aboriginal activists, who are occupying a vacant restaurant on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra, to leave “as soon as possible”, or risk arrest.
Local Ngunnawal people and Aboriginal Tent Embassy activists moved into the former Lobby restaurant on Sunday.
The group stuck their own eviction notice addressed to the National Capital Authority (NCA) on the front door, claiming the owners had not sought permission to build from the Ngunnawal people.
The NCA is the government body that manages planning and development of Commonwealth land in Canberra and is responsible for many Commonwealth-owned buildings.
The eviction notice issued by the Ngunnawal people to the National Capital Authority reads:
National Capital Authority, you are hereby given an eviction notice for the Lobby restaurant and Rose Gardens that exist on Ngunnawal Land.
The reason for this eviction notice is:
Your failure to seek permission, seek an agreement, sign a Treaty or Lease the land from the Ngunnawal Original Custodians.
National Capital Authority have neglected to pay rent for the period from 1968 to 15th February 2017.
Your outstanding rent due is $7,644,000 (Seven Million, Six Hundred and Forty Four Thousand Dollars) calculated at $3,000 a week for 49 years.
Dated: 15 February, 2017
Today NCA acting chief executive Andrew Smith met with elders and Australian Federal Police around the fire at the Tent Embassy.
Mr Smith asked the activists to leave the restaurant, but elders refused his request.
“The NCA’s view is that the breaking and entering into that building is illegal and we would request the people who are occupying that building leave as soon as possible,” Mr Smith said.
An activist asked what made the police so superior to make decisions “and be an owner; yet we’re not?”
“What happens if we refuse to leave our own land as the traditional owners of this country?” the activist said.
The activists continued to refuse to vacate the building for the duration of the meeting, until Mr Smith left with no resolution achieved.
When a police officer then asked the group to follow the NCA’s request, the activists demanded legal advice.
One man asked if police would “explicitly rule out the use of force” in dealing with the situation.
“From our point of view, we want a peaceful resolution,” a police officer responded.
When asked if the activists would be arrested, police said that would be the “worst-case scenario”.
It is not clear if or when police will take action.
The heritage-listed building has been empty since it closed in December.