Politics: We Are Sorry

My workplace actually broadcast the apology, both in the Lecture Theatre and on the big screen above reception. Unfortunately, due to a slow start this morning, I still managed to miss most of it. I did get to watch the last five minutes of Rudd’s speech, and then the first five minutes of Nelson’s, before I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to leave.

I’m sure all the Australians reading this have seen the text of the Apology far too often today, but I’m posting it anyway. It deserves wide coverage, and it’s nice for my overseas readers to see that the Australian government is actually capable of getting things right occasionally. This has been a long time coming.

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

It’s a good apology, and the rest of the speech was just as good – you can download the PDF here. It’s four pages long, and among other things gives a sense of what is actually being apologised for. I only heard the end, as I said, but it brought tears to my eyes, even though I’ve never been personally affected by these issues. You can also download Nelson’s speech there, if you have a strong stomach. My perusal of the newspapers suggests I was not the only one so affected – a number of people apparently turned their backs when he spoke.

One thing, though, struck me more than anyone else. The galleries were full of Aboriginal people, as well they should be. But the sea of faces surround Rudd and clapping approval were all white. Not a single indigenous face in parliament (I feel reasonably safe saying this, although I didn’t see all the faces, since I have no doubt the cameras would have focused right in if there had been one). This is somehow very discomforting to me. It reflects, perhaps more tellingly than anything else, why such an apology is needed, but … some little part of me did wonder if there was an element of patronage in all this. Or if such an element can indeed be avoided?

I don’t know. I don’t understand racial politics on this level, but that made me twitch.

It would not be right to end this post without adding a note of my own. I don’t think there are any Aboriginal people who read this blog, but if there are, and even if there are not, I am truly sorry for the wrong that has been done to the Aboriginal people of Australia, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and politically, both in the past and in the present. I have no idea what I personally can do to help heal these wrongs, but what I can do I will so that this day of apology can be more than just words and can instead be the start of a process of recognition, healing and restoration.

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