13 February 2008

A long-awaited apology

Beginning in 1869, many of the children of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were taken from their families to be raised in internment camps, orphanages or foster homes. This action against the stolen generation was taken under the authorisation of Australian law, and it continued for the next one hundred years. There were various reasons for the policy, but the common thread was a belief that the Anglo population was superior to the indigenous people. Additionally, authorities often failed to take proper records of parentage, permanently severing contact between parent and child.

Since 1998, Australia has observed Sorry Day, in which the Australian people acknowledge the wrongdoing of the past. But while there has been a push among the people for reconciliation, the Howard government continuously refused to issue an official apology.

In today's opening of Parliament, new prime minister Kevin Rudd rectified that when he made an apology to the indigenous people of Australia on behalf of Parliament. It was a brief speech, but it was sincere and made no excuses for the actions taken, and it was well received, both in the indigenous community and the wider Australian community, as thousands of people gathered in the major cities to watch the apology. He not only apologised for the past, but looked toward the future, focusing on equal opportunity for all Australians. He targeted specific goals, such as narrowing the gap in life expectancy, which is currently twenty years shorter for indigenous Australians. In doing this, Rudd not only apologised for the past, but opened the door for a better future.

The three and a half minute apology can be seen here. After it's conclusion, he immediately continued the speech, discussing the damage done and the need for official recognition. A YouTube search yields additional videos of this elaboration.

Unfortunately, Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson followed up these words with a speech of his own. While he acknowledged the wrongdoing, he repeatedly stressed the 'good intentions' of the offenders. Not surprisingly, his speech has been soundly criticised and reveals a complete lack of empathy for the people and understanding of the spirit of the apology. People present at Parliament literally turned their backs on him, while viewers in the cities clapped over him to drown out his words.

Nelson notwithstanding, today was an exciting day of hope in Australia. We live in a world where many, like Nelson, make excuses for wrongs. It was refreshing to see someone, particularly a representative of government, apologise without reservation. Maybe there is hope for the world yet.


Clint Kirby said...

Interesting piece of history that I never knew. On an unrelated note, what is the best way to ship something to Australia? And how much does it cost? I had something up on eBay and some Aussie popped on and won straightaway.

Anonymous said...

Hindsight is 20/20.

Chris said...

Nelson's hindsight apparently isn't 20/20. He should have known better than to say anything so ridiculous.

Heather said...

Chris didn't say this policy went on until the early 1970s. There was argument from the Opposition (Brendan Nelson's group) that we shouldn't apologize for the actions of previous generations. But as Kevin Rudd said later in his speech, this isn't something that happened in remote antiquity. There are members of Parliament still sitting who were members back then when legislation was in place.

I'm glad Kevin Rudd made the apology.