Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples 13 February 2008

Yesterday morning I went to work early (9am AEDT is 8am in Queensland), cornered the practice manager and we went up to the partners’ bar and watched The Speech. I then spent most of the rest of the day talking about it on and off – to solicitors and friends and family and housemates and taxi drivers. This is a Frankensteinian cobbling-together of some of the contents of my emails and conversations thereon:

  1. It needed to be done. It’s difficult to fix something if you can’t acknowledge something’s wrong, and we were always going to get hung up on this issue.
  2. It needed to be done by the Government. This wasn’t about individual guilt for another individual’s actions. Not about asking you and I to apologise for what happened at Hornet Bank, for instance. And it wasn’t asking the Government to apologise for the actions of rogue citizens or for something that happened in the mists of time. Rudd was right – it was recent. But more than that, these were actions of and condoned by a single entity which is still in existence – Australia, represented by its Government which represents its citizens. That entity is being asked to apologise for its own actions. And if you accept that what happened was wrong – however good or misguided the intentions may or may not have been – then an apology is in order. It is the decent thing to do and it should be given by the entity responsible – Australia. As citizens, whether before or after the events in question, or whether we or our parents arrived after or we chose to become citizens, we are a part of that entity, and we elect representatives to do things on our behalf. The country did something for which there is a very strong argument that it is wrong. We aren’t individually guilty of that. But we are jointly responsible for making sure we don’t condone it.
  3. Even if I thought something was legitimate at the time, I should still be big enough to apologise when I realise it wasn’t. And if there are grey areas in some respects, there are issues of racism, discrimination and genocide to more than balance out that equation.
  4. Guillard and Bishop were caught in the corners of the screen as Rudd and Nelson talked, so we got a good look at their faces. When Nelson started his response, I thought Bishop was going to jump up and interrupt a few times :). This was a highlight.
  5. Rudd got in a line about the complexities of post-reformation theology.
  6. Yes, it’s meant to be a debate but Nelson did not do himself or his argument any favours. I wanted to rewrite his speech for him. People have said it wasn’t the place to say what he did. I agree with my mother that there should be political debate. He just did it really badly and insensitively and sort of missed the general point of compensation. I had an overall impression of faulty reasoning and tangents, but when I read the transcript it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought (that just means that it came across worse live). (Read this noting that I find I get less agitated if I critique someone’s writing than their ideas – it’s the only way I get through the Opinion pieces in the Courier Mail).
  7. This is our government and ultimately they are responsible to the people who elected them. I don’t want my government to ask, “How can we avoid liability for what we did?”. I want them to ask, “Are we liable for what we did?” and then fix it to the best of their ability.
  8. This doesn’t fix anything. But it means we can start to try. Not the drought-break, but maybe the watershed.
  9. This doesn’t fix everything. It has snowballed over the decades into such a huge thing, but it isn’t an apology to everyone for everything that has ever been done. It was about specific policies and actions and the people trampled by them. And some people were less hurt by it than others. Some people don’t care. Many do.
  10. This does not create a situation of inequality. It is acknowledging the inequality that has been there all along.
  11. No, this can’t be dealt with in the criminal courts. For the most part, it was legal at the time. Not right, but legal.
  12. No, this isn’t the same thing as Germany. For one thing, the German government was comprehensively dismantled and replaced after WWII so it isn’t a continuous entity.
  13. No, it doesn’t automatically create an entitlement to ‘handouts’ or compensation. But if it does, why are we complaining if it is the Right Thing? Obviously, there are many possible answers to that, but it won’t hurt to examine them.
  14. You can’t have a “one-size fits all” solution if you’ve just deliberately lopped limbs off a group of people. I really like the cartoon A Concise History of Black-White Relations in the U.S.A. and have found it useful for explaining a number of things. But it’s a very different situation than this (maybe relations with Native Americans  – is that the preferred name? I’m open to correction – would be more analogous?). The Straight Ablebodied Rich White Man’s Burden might be closer to what seems (broadly) to be going on in Australia, only imagine that the speaker put the better part of those other bags there. 
  15. Please to define “a better life”.
  16. What did you think?

[Edited 16/2/08 to change “Fraser” to “Nelson” : )]

3 thoughts on “Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples 13 February 2008

  1. Pingback: The Interesting Things Basket* « Errantry

  2. I agree – a first step. Alone, it won’t get us there but I don’t know if we could move forward without it.

    If you do stop by again, what should the general apology before? I’m asking quite seriously because I am interested in the answer and because I do agree to an extent – there has been general injustice. On the other hand, there are other things that have happened which the government was not responsible for, (unless it has condoned them). So I wonder what you would include in that apology, and what would be excluded.

    One of my housemates was verbally abused in England by and Englishman for the the shameful colonisation of Australia by the Australian Government (not subsequent events)… missing the fact that it was the English government at the time which was responsible for over 100 years of governing before Federation :)

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