It is a proud day in Australia’s history. Justice has taken a foothold. The apology given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Feb. 13 marks the beginning of a new chapter in the interracial relations between people of indigenous origin and non-indigenous Australians.
CAESAR A. BAROÑA
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 3, February 17-23, 2008
Canberra, ACT, Australia – It is a proud day in Australia’s history. Justice has taken a foothold. The apology given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Feb. 13 marks the beginning of a new chapter in the interracial relations between people of indigenous origin and non-indigenous Australians.
It was an emotional event especially for those who are known as the “Stolen Generations,” tens of thousands of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who were forcibly taken as children from their families and communities during the period 1910 to the 1970s. This was a result of policies that tried to break up the Aboriginal communities, in what was seen as “the problem of the Aboriginal population,” a euphemism for racial eradication.
The “profound grief, suffering and loss” of the Aboriginal communities lead to dysfunctional families, a cultural divide, as well as a vast gap in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
Thus in 1997, the “Bringing Them Home” report commissioned by former Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1995 prompted an apology. The findings were passed on to the Howard government. But instead, according to Rudd’s aside, it was met by the Howard government “with stony and stubborn and deafening silence for more than a decade.”
And so, to “right a great wrong,” Rudd issued the apology to the stolen generations, and resolved that “the injustices of the past must never, never happen again,” in his capacity as Prime Minister of the 42nd Australian Parliament. Also present in the session were former Prime Ministers Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating, while John Howard was a sticking thumb by not showing up.
”[T]he stolen generations are not intellectual curiosities, they are human beings, human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of parliaments and governments…. imagine if this had happened to us,” said Rudd.
”To the Stolen Generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. And I offer you this apology without qualification.”
When Rudd issued the apology in a personal capacity, he was met with loud applause and was much appreciated by the crowds watching his speech.
”We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted. We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied.”
”We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments.”
In contrast, opposition leader Brendan Nelson’s speech was snubbed. Even though he started out well, with the opening, “We will be at our best today, and every day, if we call to place ourselves in the shoes of others,” the first part of his speech was marred when he tried to justify the motivations of those who implemented the brutal policies. Audiences in the parliament’s Great Hall and those just outside turned their backs on the giant television screens while he was on.
But overall, the mood was one of healing and reconciliation. A thorn had been pulled from Australia’s hide.
”I feel empowered by the apology,” says Yoona, a member of the Wagga-Wagga tribe.
”It’s like a new century has dawned,” says another Aboriginal elder who had been outside parliament for much of the day.
”It’s a step forward,” says Alice, 60-ish, who recalled being separated from their mother, along with her siblings. She felt relief, and only has concerns for her children and grandchildren now.
Such hopes have been raised by a more substantial commitment from Rudd in the form of a joint policy commission to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in terms of life expectancy and educational and economic opportunities.
”It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history,” said Rudd to make the point.
With the apology, Rudd hopes to right the “wrongs of the past” and lead Australia ‘with confidence to the future’.
The motion for reconciliation enjoyed bipartisan support in parliament. It is a continental advance for the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights. PinoyEra.com / Posted by Bulatlat