Sorry Day?

11 02 2008

Kevin Rudd is set to deliver a long time coming apology to the so-called Stolen Generations. What are the Lattenomics’ feelings about the apology? Well as usual they are mixed.

Firstly, the term Stolen Generations refers to the alleged past policies of the Australian governments to take Aboriginal and half-cast children of Aboriginal decent into custody in order to “breed out” their Aboriginality. There appears to be some factual difficulties with this assertion as no state or territory have actually had such policies, at least on paper, barring perhaps WA and NT. There were also a number of legal cases where Aborigines sued for compensation over being stolen but not very many (if any) succeeded. The problems usually centred on the reasons for removal that turned out to be unrelated to Aboriginality and racism but were prompted by neglect, sexual abuse, crime and alcoholism. Nevertheless, it is clear that for whatever reason, children were removed and some Aboriginals feel strongly that they were wronged by the state.

The opponents of saying sorry have often argued, that apology was only a pretext to a large compensation claim by the Aborigines. While Kevin Rudd has committed himself to saying Sorry, he ruled out any chance of compensation. Lattenomics considers this immoral. One cannot logically sustain an apology for a previous wrongs without offering compensation. If you admit that your government has in fact removed Aboriginal children for wicked and racist reasons, you must back the apology with compensation. It is only fair. Rudd’s position seems to signal symbolism – yes, real action – no.

Putting the issue of compensation aside, saying Sorry is meant to bring closure and allow Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to move on. This is fine in theory. However there is a danger here. Saying Sorry will not make the huge problems faced by the Aborigines disappear – alcohol abuse, domestic violence, joblessness, sexual abuse and neglect won’t be solved overnight after the single word is uttered. They will require long-term attention. With so much political capital spent on saying Sorry, it is quite possible that the general population fatigued by the whole process will simply lose interest. They may simply say: “See, we’ve said Sorry just as you asked us to, we have done our bit. We’ve upheld our part of the bargain. It’s now up to you to move on”. The ratification of Kyoto protocol provides a good example with the heat (excuse the pun) going out of the issue after the purely symbolic act of ratification. No emissions have been slashed, no targets met but the enthusiasm is largely gone out of the issue.

Saying Sorry is an important act that has the potential to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians closer. Still, there is a danger that saying Sorry will allow politicians and general community to wash their hands of the atrocious circumstances so many Aborigines presently find themselves in. Circumstances that were created not only by the injustices of the past, but also the city white fella feel-good policies of land-rights and “sit down” Indigenous welfare that embraced symbolism and white guilt while delivering horrendous practical outcomes. We shouldn’t let this happen again.

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