I just listened to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s delivery of the Australian Government’s apology to the Stolen Generations on the ABC website.
I was very surprised by Rudd’s speech. It was very straight-forward in terms of accepting responsibility (for Federal Government Policy) and it didn’t close the door on compensation (rather it asserted that this apology is the first step in reconciliation). I did not expect anything so responsible and dignified. In stark contrast, Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson’s response was very defensive; not so much about resolving past mistakes, but more concerned with insulating the government from future responsibility.
Although this is an important landmark in Australian history, I think it’s clear that an apology isn’t enough. I feel that a lot of people who argue against the apology and against compensation see this as an issue between us (non-indigenous Australians) and them (indigineous Australians). That is entirely not the case; this apology is between the Australian Government and those that it has wronged. The Australian Government must take responsiblity for its actions regardless of whether its current members, or the populace that it represents, were directly involved in prior government policy.
Imagine if we found that a large corporation was responsible for child abuse over 50 years ago. Chances are that no member of the current board would have been directly involved in the child abuse, and the company shareholders may have had absolutely no knowledge of it. The corporation would still be responsible for compensation. Why should the government be any different?
Update: It looks like the government has closed the door on compensation. That’s very disappointing.