How many national apologies?

By November 1, 2018Australian Politics, Society

The National Apology to the stolen generations came about as the result of a recommendation from the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal Children from their Families, commissioned by the Keating government1. That National Inquiry then led to the Bringing them home report which was tabled in parliament on May 26, 1997. That report made 54 recommendations on how to redress the wrongs done to indigenous people. These recommendations included one which suggested that all Australian parliaments and state and territory police forces acknowledge responsibility for these wrongs. These were committed by governments under the Commonwealth state and territory Aboriginal protection and welfare laws and policies2.

It almost goes without saying that the malevolent Howard government did nothing by way of acknowledging these wrongs except an acknowledgement of regret3. This is unsurprising given the ‘white blindfold’ approach to Australian history adopted by then Prime Minister John Howard. Howard stated that it was because he did not believe that one generation can accept responsibility for the acts of an earlier generation2. If this was really the case, then he would let the Japanese off the hook for the way their troops mistreated Australian prisoners of war, and their use of ‘comfort women’4,5. However, he did not, simply saying that nations should be “frank about past events”. I doubt he could see the irony of this statement.

A government of a nation is a timeless entity. The personnel may change regularly, but the government continues, so Howard’s argument about his generation not being responsible for the acts of previous generations is a furphy.

As usual, it was left to a Labor government to clean up the conservative mess, and it was then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who delivered the ‘Apology to the Stolen Generation’ in February, 20081,2. At the time ‘condolence books’ were placed in various organisations for people to sign and comment. I signed one where I worked, and commented that I could not bear the thought of my children being taken from me, never to be seen again, just because of the colour of my skin. If that had ever happened, nobody could have ever apologised enough to lessen the pain caused by government policy.

A week or so ago we had the national apology to people who were survivors of child sexual abuse. The speech was delivered by current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison6, and attended by Julia Gillard who, when Prime Minister in 2012, established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse7, against opprobrium from the conservative side of politics especially among the Murdoch ‘ruperters’8. The respect and love shown to Gillard by the victims on that day was extraordinary. People had known about this child sexual abuse for decades9. This was not caused by government policy, but exacerbated by government inactivity and by allowing the churches to trample over civil law.

I expect there will be more apologies in future. There will probably be one to the men, women and children imprisoned on Nauru and Manus simply for seeking asylum*10, and for providing the perfect dogwhistle for the far right who seem to think we are being overwhelmed by brown people. There will probably be another to the veteran community who, despite considerable funding, still suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental illness and suicide. The government could do more11.

There will probably be, and should be, an apology to the homeless, who number over 100,000 in one of the richest nations on the planet12. There should also be an apology to those suffering domestic violence, with at least one woman being killed every week by a current or former partner and countless others being assaulted. The government could do more13.

Last, but perhaps most important, will be an apology to the younger generation in its entirety. This will be for the old besuited bastards stealing their future by accepting money from deniers and toeing the deniers’ line, rather than dealing with climate change effectively and leaving the younger generation a planet on which they can thrive. Gaol would be more appropriate for the perpetrators, rather than an apology to the victims.

*Weirdly, as I was writing this paragraph, in front of the television, political satirist Sammy J appeared with his mock apology from 2068 to the Nauru generation. It is very much worth watching, and I’d ask that you do so. It is vastly more eloquent that this rant.




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