Sunday, February 10, 2008

Confused about the apology?

This Wednesday, Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, will apologise to the "Stolen Generations" on behalf of the Australian parliament for policies implemented until the 1970s in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were forcibly removed from their families and placed into institutional or foster-family care simply on the basis of race. This has been a controversial and highly politicised issue in Australia for many years. As a result, there is much confusion over what the apology will and will not mean. Although the specific wording to be used will not be released until tomorrow, it is worth addressing some of the common questions about this event.

#1 I didn't do it, why should I apologise?
The apology on Wednesday is being made by Kevin Rudd on behalf of the Australian parliament, not the Australian people. The apology is for specific government policies relating to the removal of children, not generally for all mistreatment of indigenous people. As a parallel example, a few years ago John Howard apologised to Vietnam veterans for how they were mistreated upon their return from the war.

#2 Why bring up ancient history?
Not only do such traumatic actions have repercussions extending beyond a single generation, but these policies were still being implemented into the 1960s and early 70s. Many of those directly affected as children and family members are still alive today.

#3 Saying sorry won't change anything
An apology is a necessary but not sufficient step in the path to healing and reconciliation. In this case, it ought not to be a distraction from or alternative to seeking better results in health, education and housing. It will not change what happened in the past, but it is the only way to seek a better future.

#4 The policies were executed with good intentions
Intentions are not irrelevant, but by themselves are insufficient when evaluating an event. The majority of indigenous children were removed from their families purely on the basis of the colour of their skin, not the level of their care. Many were abused physically, sexually or emotionally as a result. It is difficult to find a member of the Stolen Generations who is happy about being denied the love of their parents and extended family.
Modified from The Stolen Generations’ Apology – 7 Handy Mythbusters published by GetUp.

If you want to watch the apology on Wednesday, here is a list of locations. It will be screened live on ABC at 9 am EST. Here are some FAQs answered by Reconciliation Australia. I also gave some more recommended links on the topic back here.


Priscilla said...

There are so many incorrect assumptions floating around on the blogosphere that it's refreshing to see a post like this. Thanks!

byron smith said...

And not just on the blogosphere. I keep having conversations in which I find people are very confused. Thanks for the encouragement.

For whom are you an online campaigner?

Groseys messages said...

Could it be that we aussies were captivated by the cathartic?
So we are ministers of cathartic experiences rather than thoughtful and rational responsibility?

byron smith said...

Steve, welcome to my blog! You may well be right, but you seem to imply that the apology may have been indulgently cathartic, or nothing but cathartic. There is something cathartic about true repentance (far more so if it is met with forgiveness!). Why does there need to be a dichotomy between cathartic experiences and thoughtful responsibility? I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.