Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Plenty of Style, Where’s the Substance?

Despite the new government’s enthusiasm for warm and fuzzy gestures such as immediately ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and preparing to issue a formal apology to the stolen generation, it has to be asked if there is substance behind the style.

After all of the hysteria about the Kyoto Protocol, when push came to shove at the Bali talks many were disappointed with Australia’s position on the setting of emissions targets. Yes a declaration was made, but it fell short of the expectations held by many. In many ways there is a certain pragmatism to the idea of embracing the symbolic gestures, but acting more cautiously on the measures which have a real economic impact. Ironically, it turns out that Kevin Rudd really isn’t that much different from John Howard in those terms.

In the same way, much has been made of the plan to make a formal apology to the stolen generation, but the proposal for a $1 billion compensation fund has been flatly rejected by the new government. Instead, more practical forms of reconciliation are considered to be more important, such as measures to address health, education and social equity issues. It’s a position that sounds remarkably similar to the one expressed by the previous Prime Minister.

There is a catch however. In the absence of a capped compensation fund, some legal experts believe that a co-ordinated campaign of litigation could ultimately cost taxpayers much more in court awarded compensation payments. It’s sad that it comes down to this, but many people will be cynical and say that it was only ever about the money. I wonder though, how many people would object to the idea of compensation for the white victims of foster homes who have also suffered injustices over the years… No it’s not just about the money, but sometimes the money is a pretty good indicator of your sincerity.

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