Monday, December 17, 2007

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

It’s no longer a point of debate whether or not the Australian Government should say “sorry” to the stolen generation of indigenous Australians. The new government has made the commitment to making a formal apology next year, so now the discussion has turned to the contents and phrasing of such a statement, along with the proposal to set aside a compensation fund.

There remains a lot of misunderstanding about the events of the past, along with a continuing attitude by some that there’s nothing to be sorry for, or if there is, then it was the fault of previous generations and not our responsibility. That attitude completely misses the point.

Already various State and Territory Governments, as well as the major Churches, have made formal apologies. So have other organizations and community groups who have expressed their support for the cause. But the one existing entity which should truly be the one to carry the responsibility is the ongoing entity which was originally responsible for the policies of the past. Governments change, but the parliament continues as the ongoing representative of the sovereign people of Australia. As such it is appropriate for the parliament, representing the Commonwealth of Australia, to make whatever apology is deemed suitable. We the people may not be responsible for the policies of the past, but the parliament, as an ongoing institution, is.

Secondly, it’s important to recognize the reality of the policies that created the stolen generation. While it is true that such policies were created in the belief that they were in the best interests of both the people and the broader community, we must examine the basis on which those assumptions were made. Even today, we expect the authorities to intervene and “rescue” a child from an environment where it is at risk of harm, and we’ve seen startling cases in recent times highlighting that challenge. But the assumption underlying the stolen generation was that such a decision could legitimately be made solely on the basis of race and culture.

Christine King of the Stolen Generations Alliance summed it up by saying that the children of the stolen generation were not taken away to save them, but to change them. That’s a distinction which identifies it as an exercise in social engineering with no regard for individual human rights, and that’s why an apology is not only warranted but long overdue.

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