Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Australia to apologize to Aborigines

From the Associated Press:

CANBERRA, Australia - Australia will issue its first formal apology to its indigenous people next month, the government announced Wednesday, a milestone that could ease tensions with a minority whose mixed-blood children were once taken away on the premise that their race was doomed.

The Feb. 13 apology to the so-called "stolen generations" of Aborigines will be the first item of business for the new Parliament, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose Labor Party won November elections, had promised to push for an apology, an issue that has divided Australians for a decade,

"The apology will be made on behalf of the Australian government and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people," Macklin said in a statement.

Rudd has refused demands from some Aboriginal leaders to pay compensation for the suffering of broken families. Activist Michael Mansell, who is legal director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center, has urged the government to set up an $882 million compensation fund.

Macklin did not mention compensation Wednesday. But she said she sought broad input on the wording of the apology, which she hoped would signal the beginning of a new relationship between Australia and its original inhabitants, who number about 450,000 among a population of 21 million. Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia and are most likely to be jailed, unemployed and illiterate....
read more here

COMMENT:
Note that while the current Prime Minister does not wish to "attribute guilt" to the "current generation of Australian people", focusing instead on "mistakes of the past" (policies are deliberate, they are not "mistakes"), the article itself notes the following about the present:
  1. "Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia and are most likely to be jailed, unemployed and illiterate"--in the present;
  2. "the 17-year life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians"--in the present;
  3. "From 1910 until the 1970s, around 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative".

It is likely that even with this superificial apology the attempt is to evade any obligation to make compensation for what, by international legal standards, where pre-meditated and planned policies of genocide.

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3 comments:

Blackgirl On Mars said...

It's frustrating that when you are on the "right" side of the law, you can break it time and time again and get away with it because the legal system has been built for your survival and if it has been built for your survival, what about the others whose presence have been there before or have been brought over to promote someone else's economy?
In this way, as Prof. Angela Davis once put it, our humanity is criminalized. Like the people of New Orleans, they are punished just for wanting to survive.
Thank goodness for blogs such as yours. I will keep reading.
All the best,
the lab

Charles Letterman said...

The Australian government has made a formal apology for the past wrongs caused by successive governments on the indigenous Aboriginal population. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, apologised to all Aborigines for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss". But the Aborigines want more. They want money and are calling the apology a 'cut-price sorry'.

Back in 1998, in a meeting with Tony Blair, the Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto offered "an expression of deep remorse and heartfelt apology to the people who suffered in the Second World War". But Britain's war veterans wanted more. They had been hoping for an apology from the entire government as well as further compensation on top of that received in 50 years ago.

Two years ago Tony Blair expressed his "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade. But representitives of those with ancestors victimised by the slavery wanted a formal apology (which Blair ruled out) and, of course, financial compensation.

So what's the point? Most country's governments have been violent and oppressive at some time in their history. Where does the guilt stop?

In fact, all of these apologies are meaningless. The groups are obviously resigned to their martyrdom, and nothing short of a financial pay-out will really satisfy them. And no modern day leader has the right to apologise for wrongs committed by previous generations anyway, however horrific.

My suggestion is that these powerful governments concentrate on dealing with the poverty and oppression happening around the world this very minute, rather than worrying about past misdemeanours that are cemented into history, and impossible to correct.

www.charlesletterman.com

Maximilian C. Forte said...

Of course I must disagree with the message posted by Charles Letterman, specifically in connection with the following three points:

(1) "Most country's governments have been violent and oppressive at some time in their history. Where does the guilt stop?"

--Why should we exonerate violent and oppressive states? Whose guilt are you speaking about, since states are not persons? Why can there be compensation for the holocaust, which ended in 1945, but not for the stealing of Aborginal children and forced assimilation, which ended in the 1970s?

---The question is not where does the guilt stop, but when will the guilty stop pleading innocence.

(2) "no modern day leader has the right to apologise for wrongs committed by previous generations anyway, however horrific"

---No, they have a duty. The past generations of which you speak are currently still living in some cases. Far from just apologizing, they should be put on trial, and perhaps experience the kind of prison they created for the people whose land they stole.

(3) "My suggestion is that these powerful governments concentrate on dealing with the poverty and oppression happening around the world this very minute"

---Poverty and oppression are not spontaneously generated and created anew, they stem in many cases from a bedrock of multiple layers of past injustices. If poverty today is really your concern, then why are you so adamantly against paying compensation to Aboriginals who are still by far the poorest people not just in Australia, but on the whole planet?

Talk about martyrdom...