The Federal government has announced the date for the official apology to members of the stolen generation, and that will be Wednesday the 13th of February. It will be the first order of business of the new Parliament when it convenes for the first time since being elected. While opposition leader Brendan Nelson says he questions the need to rush into this, I suspect that once it has been done it will be largely put behind us as we all move on.
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, has emphasized that the apology does not in any way attribute guilt to the current generation of the Australian people. The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that while there will be the apology, there will be no compensation fund. Both of these issues are matters which have been seen to be obstacles to an apology in the past.
So, is the Government right? Can such an apology be made without admitting any liability? Perhaps it can, but perhaps that is not really the question. In the absence of a fund, any compensation will be determined through the courts, and ultimately that may be the most appropriate arena for those decisions. Either way this question may continue to divide Australians for some time to come.
The important point however is this. The decision to say sorry has been made. The apology will be given. After that the debate is over and we can all move on. Hopefully, that means moving forward, and beginning to address more practical issues like health and social cohesion.