The former Australian Rules football star has raised the profile of indigenous issues in the past two weeks, after starting a 660-kilometre walk from Melbourne to Canberra asking for an opportunity to talk to Mr Howard about the direction of indigenous policy.
Expectations of a positive reception by the prime minister have dimmed after Mr Howard remarked that Mr Long had turned down a place on the newly-formed government-appointed advisory body, the National Indigenous Council (NIC).
“I should make it plain that our principal source of information on indigenous issues from indigenous people will be that advisory committee and we’re not going to, in any way, change the course of policy,” Mr Howard said.
Mr Long said he had declined the offer to join the council because he was not satisfied the new body would adequately replace the directly-elected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
“I did consider (joining the NIC) but we needed something stronger – we needed an identity,” Mr Long said.
“ATSIC has almost been demolished – there’s no voice anymore.”
Bringing added urgency to today’s talks is the rising anger in indigenous communities, fanned by recent events in the Queensland towns of Palm Island and Goondiwindi.
The death in custody on Palm Island of 36-year-old Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee, on November 19 was followed by a mass riot involving 300 people on November 26 after the detail’s of his post-mortem were released.
Authorities have appealed for calm on the island as an investigation by Queensland’s corruption watchdog, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) is being carried out, and a second autopsy has been ordered by the state’s coroner Michael Barnes.
However, tensions have been further heightened in the wake of allegations of vigilante justice being exacted on Aboriginal youths near the Queensland border town of Goondiwindi after an alleged break-and-enter.
Arrest notices have been issued to two farm workers, aged 44 and 23, accused of dragging two Aboriginal teenagers along a river bank by a rope tied around their necks and wrists, and beating them with a stick.
A 19-year-old man from the nearby Aboriginal community of Toomelah has been summonsed to face court on one count of break-and-enter with intent, one count of entering premises, committing an indictable offence and unlawful use of a motorcycle.
Police said two other young men are facing similar charges to the 19-year-old.
A fourth alleged offender is still being sought.
Aboriginal leaders are planning national protest rallies on December 11, coinciding with Harmony Day, to criticise the treatment of indigenous people by authorities.
Brisbane-based activist Sam Watson said there were more Aboriginal deaths in custody now than in 1991 when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was handed down with its 339 recommendations.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone yesterday dispelled claims that indigenous prisoners are dying in Australian gaols at an increasing rate saying the number deaths has dropped by 50 percent this decade compared with the 1980s.