Australia must offer more than an apology to the aborigines

How does the newly Prime Minister-elect and Labor Leader, Kevin Rudd, make a difference in coming times compared to the past 11 years of John Howard in power –” the time will tell us, nevertheless, he has kicked off with great courage and daring steps by announcing to offer an apology to the Australian Aborigines for the stolen indigenous children from their parents between 1870s and 1960s.

Mr. Kevin Rudd announced that soon after the new parliament meets next year, his government will issue a real, meaningful and substantive apology to Australia’s aborigines for the past injustices against them. He said that offering an apology to the aborigines would build a bridge between Aborigines and non-Aborigines.

In response to Mr. Rudd’s courageous move, an aboriginal elder, Lowitja O’Donoghue who claims herself a member of the stolen generation said that the new Prime Minister has to be straight forward and should say ‘sorry’ not ‘apology’.

Certainly, the words ‘apology’ and ‘sorry’ effect differently, yet, delivering any kind of confession and regret on the wrong-doings against aboriginal people will play a vital role in the healing process and to the reconciliation measures between the aborigines and non-aborigines especially with Anglo Saxon Australian.

Mr. Howard’s plea was that the policy of removing children, was carried out by the past governments and an apology could open the door to expensive compensation claims.

The apparent excuse of Mr. Howard and his liberal for not to offer sorry to the aborigines has been the reason that if the apology is offered then it would open the door to expensive compensation claims and government may have to pay billions of dollars to the aboriginal people. Mr. Rudd rejects this justification and said that apologizing to aboriginal people would not open the door to compensation claims. The question is that even if heavy money is paid as compensation to the most disadvantaged people of Australia, would the action heal the pain and fill up the gap of those aboriginal people who lost their parents, culture and identity. Yes, it may be a great positive step and in the right direction in the rehabilitation and building process of indigenous people.

Indigenous Co-Chair of the National Sorry Day Committee (NSDC) and Stolen Generations Survivor Helen Moran said that the apology to indigenous Australians needs to be powerful and should retain the original intent of the ‘Bringing Them Home Report’ recommendation which called for Consultation, Acknowledgement and Responsibility. The NSDC commends Prime Minister Rudd for his cautious and respectful approach towards his proposed formal apology to the Australian natives.

According to historical documents; 10 to 30 percent of aboriginal children were snatched forcibly from their parents during the early days of the European occupation of Australia until the abolition of white Australia policy (in 1970s). The motives of British rulers to take children away from their homes was to teach them European values and work habits so that these children would then be employed in service to the colonial settlers. Although once removed indigenous children were treated differently from the non-indigenous.

Most of them were under the age of 5. These children were taken away from their parents under the policy of then Federal and State authorities to assimilate these native children into the Anglo-Saxon society. Nevertheless, the history reveals that most children were raised in Churches or State institutions. Some children were fostered or adopted by Anglo-Saxon parents. Many of them suffered from physical and sexual abuse. During the 1950s and 1960s large numbers of indigenous children were removed from their parents aiming to assimilate them with Anglo-Saxon Australians. As the institutions taking care of them could not cope with the increasing numbers and welfare practices, indigenous children were placed with non-indigenous foster families where their identity was denied or disparaged.

In May 1995, The National inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families was established which was chaired by Sir Ronald Wilson. In May 1997, a report on the Stolen Generations, Bringing Them Home, stemming from the inquiry chaired by Sir Ronald Wilson and was tabled in the Parliament. Exactly after a year, in May 1998, the first national Sorry Day was held to mark the anniversary of the stolen children report.

In February 2000, John Howard abandoned the deadline on reconciliation to be achieved by the eve of federation celebration. Since then aborigines leaders raised the issue from different platforms, in seminars, demonstrations etc but John Howard and his Liberal Party always refused to offer ‘sorry’ to aborigines.

Aborigines are Australia’s most disadvantaged people. Having a life expectancy 17 years below the rest of the Australia and with many living in third world conditions they are needed the reformation in every walk of life. According to a report of the World Health Organisation, the healthcare standards for aborigines are a century behind than the rest of Australia. In some parts of the country the life expectancy of male aborigines is just 33 years. Lack of education, job opportunities and other social facilities the crimes and gun culture have been increased in aboriginal community. Child abuse, rape and lootings are common crimes in remote areas. The law and order situation in remote areas are terrible.

Therefore, the coming government of Kevin Rudd has to do more than just an apology particularly in remote areas. Any program without the consultation and involvement of aboriginal community leaders and elders will be considered as the process of assimilation by the government. The aboriginal community needs confidence and faith of the government that new projects are for their betterment and not to change their culture and heritage. It is strange to see that minister for aborigines’ affair is non-aborigines community.

Hence, Mr. Rudd should engage the elders and community leaders of aborigines to prepare and launch projects in different walk of life. There is high need of focusing on development programs for youth on priority.