Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Witnessing History

Despite the fact that there are still many Australians who continue to question the need for or the value of an apology, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has given all Australians a remarkable and historic day. It’s very rare that all of us can say that we have been watching history unfold before our eyes, and on those occasions we can it is often for all the wrong reasons, such as war or disaster. On the other hand, the delivery of the apology to the stolen generations has been widely welcomed as a deeply moving and positive experience.

Of course, this hasn’t magically dissolved all the divisions in out society, or suddenly brought compassion and understanding to the hearts of those who have been firmly opposed to any such apology. But, at this early stage, it’s easy to get the feeling that there has been some shift of opinion, and some broadening of people’s capacity for compassion. The real question, of course, is will this last, or will the warm glow fade away in a few days and everything return to business as usual.

The cold hard fact is that we are still no closer to reducing the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. No closer to ending the poverty and disadvantage of remote communities. No closer to resolving the racist attitudes that persist in the minds of a number of Australians.

Others are asking if we can have an apology for Aborigines, why not have an apology for other displaced people such as the British children relocated to Australia during World War Two. Or for the children of young unmarried mothers who were forcibly removed in a moral climate which today would be seen as a breach of human rights. Or for war veterans and their widows who have been left without adequate compensation for suffering incurred in the service of their country.

Yes, there are many people who might deserve some sort of apology or restitution for other injustices. But that should not distract or detract from the importance of the Parliament’s apology to the stolen generations. History has been made, and we have seen it happen before our eyes. Now it’s time for the real work to begin so that all Australians can enjoy the fruits of the “Lucky Country”.

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