Kevin Rudd’s apology to the aboriginal people of Australia is a dangerous and divisive statement according to Samuel.
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The script follows.
Welcome to Editorial Echoes for February 18, 2008, I’m Samuel Gordon-Stewart.
Kevin Rudd said sorry to the stolen generation of aborigines last week, or at least, that was the original plan. If he had only done that, I probably would have understood, as that was one of the many platforms he used to win power, but he took it further…apologising to the stolen generation of aborigines obviously wasn’t enough for him, he had to go further and make somewhat of a blanket apology to the quote “Indigenous peoples of this land”, for what he described as quote “the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss”.
I do not, for one moment, understand how it is possible to apologise to aboriginal people for policies which may have affected them adversely, without apologising to everyone else for the same thing. I do not understand how a statement such as this can assist us towards, to quote Mr. Rudd again, “a future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners”.
It was a divisive statement which effectively said, “we’re sorry for whatever may have happened to aboriginal people, but when it comes to others, well never mind”. Has Mr. Rudd really forgotten about certain injustices which he was only too eager to point out prior to being elected…injustices such as the very shabby treatment of Cornelia Rau, the German citizen and permanent Australian resident who was wrongfully detained as an illegal immigrant for ten months…why is it that we can apologise for something a previous government may have done to aboriginal people, but not something a previous government may have done to a German woman?
And apart from that, if we focus on the parts of the apology which were focussed on the “stolen generation”, why did we only apologise to aboriginal people who were removed from their families, and not the white children who were also removed? Why is it that we are apologising for an act which, in some cases by their own admission, probably saved the lives of many removed children. So many of the “stolen” children were removed because of abuse, and if they had not been removed, they quite possibly would not have been alive last week to hear an apology.
Why is it that we can apologise for removing children decades ago for their own safety, and yet we can lambaste government agencies such as the New South Wales Department of Community Services for not removing children in this decade? That, surely is a double standard.
And now that we’ve had the apology, the compensation claims start appearing. Whilst the government remains adamant that the apology will not have any effect on the chances of successful compensation claims, there can be no denying that the apology, which, let’s be honest, doubles as an admission of wrongdoing by somebody at some stage, makes those who feel hard-done-by, feel like they have a better chance at being compensated. I’ll quite happily leave it up to the courts to decide the merits of each case, but it looks like they’ll be doing that sooner rather than later.
The government may believe that the apology doesn’t make compensation claims more likely to suceed, but they still seem to be absolutely obsessed with cutting expenditure…perhaps not to fund the compensation payouts, but almost certainly to help cover the costs of spending time in court battling with people they just apologised to. That’s a twist and a half.
I probably sound like I’m saying that no harm was ever done to anyone…well that’s not the case…there is one thing I would like to apologise to Australia’s aboriginal people for, and that’s the introduction of alcohol to their culture by my ancestors. In moderation alcohol can be a good thing, but they way it has been introduced in to some places, especially remote aboriginal communities, is a travesty. The excessive use of alcohol and other drugs, or things which can be used to the same effect such as petrol, is ruining those communities.
One of the greatest legacies of the Howard government is the Northern Territory intervention. It is an attempt to help put those communities back on track. If Kevin Rudd is serious about helping aboriginal communities, he will continue the intervention in the way it was intended.
I suppose, no matter how much I may view the apology as a waste of time, money and effort, and a dangerous double standard, the fact of the matter is that Kevin Rudd has said the words that many aboriginal people have been, rightly or wrongly, waiting to hear for many years…and as that is the case, it is time to move on. The apology is a two way street. There are too many aboriginal people who are eager to blame the government for anything and everything just because they may have known somebody who was stolen…the apology is hopefully the continuation of the government trying to assist aboriginal people, but you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped…if compensation is all they want, then they are beyond help. Accepting help and not blaming the government for every little problem they can think of are two very important parts of the aboriginal end of the bargain.
Kevin Rudd has held up his end by agreeing to say sorry, now it’s time for the other end to pick up the slack.
And before anybody starts jumping up and down about me claiming that all aboriginal people just want money from the government, I have known and worked with many aboriginal people, a lot are good hard working people who just want to get on with their lives, others have a very annoying victim mentality and seem to think that whatever problems they may have, even if they are self inflicted, are the government’s fault…it’s certainly not all of them, but it’s an awful lot of them. That is a problem, if they want help, they need to accept help, and blaming the government for everything and insisting on a handout is not the way forward…if anything it’s a plea for a verse or two of The Eagles’ song “Get Over It”.
I think another important part of the process of “moving on” is accepting that aboriginal and indigenous are not exclusive words. If you have been listening carefully, you will have noticed that I have been using the word “aboriginal” to describe the people Kevin Rudd apologised to. The reason for that is that I was born here, I therefore, am indigenous…I am not aboriginal though. The sooner this is realised by the government, the aboriginal community, and everyone else the better. There is no reason why an indigenous aboriginal person should have more rights to land than a non-aboriginal indigenous person.
Sadly the government are getting a bit carried away with the post-sorry hysteria and are planning to endorse a UN declaration about the rights of indigenous people, a declaration which treats “indigenous” as another word for “aboriginal”, and could take the native title debate to a whole new level.
It may seem all nice and wonderful to some if we can say that aboriginal people own the land and we should submit to whatever rules they impose on the use of that land…but that is discrimination against those of us who are not aboriginal. If, to take one of the more extreme possibilities, the Ngunnawal people get control over the area which I live in and decide that houses are banned, and I am forced to move as a result, will that be a fair outcome? Of course not, but if we continue down this path, it’s a sample of what is going to happen. It makes me long for the more simple arguments about who should pay for doctors and nurses.
Ultimately, I do not endorse Kevin Rudd’s apology. It was not made on my behalf. I think it smacked of double standards, and was a very divisive statement which did nothing to assist the nation move towards Mr. Rudd’s vision of a “a future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners”.
I strongly hope, although probably in vain, that it does not lead to more messy debates over compensation or land rights because that will affect everyone badly, whether it be through loss of access to land or through the government having less money for various services.
If things get messy, and I believe they will, perhaps then Kevin Rudd will understand why John Howard did not apologise, and instead just took action such as the Northern Territory intervention. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”.
I’m Samuel Gordon-Stewart and this has been Editorial Echoes. If you would like to respond, please send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, tada.