Friday, 15 February 2008
A follow-up on the Moving Forward post.
A few people have asked for a bit of background to my post of a couple of days ago where I reproduced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's address to the nation from Federal Parliament apologising to the Aborigines for past wrongs.
1. Have the Aborigines accepted the apology?
By and large, yes. They have been asking that an apology be given for some years now and were consulted over the wording of the apology. As is the case with any group of humans, there is a diversity of views with some saying that it was enough and others wanting more. But for the majority it appears to have been accepted.
2. Does Kevin Rudd mean what he says?
He is giving every sign of believing and acting on this issue. He said during his election campaign that it would be one of the first things he did if elected. It was done on the second sitting day of parliament. There are many issues needing to be addressed to level the imbalance in the Australian community: life expectancy, health generally, education, housing. Successive governments have, to varying degrees, tried to move on these areas with limited success. Will Rudd succeed? I don't know but he gives every indication of wanting to tackle the issues with speed and compassion. As part of the supporting address he proposed a bipartisan parliamentary group, similar in its concept of unity and focus to a war cabinet, to work collaboratively towards some of his goals for improving the lot of Aboriginals, hopefully avoiding the point-scoring of party politics. The Opposition parties have agreed to this.
3. What of the Opposition party?
The opposition Liberal Party (= Republican, Conservative) flatly refused to apologise to the Aboriginies when it was in power. The fractures in the party were clearly seen in their leader, Brendan Nelson's, reply address to the apology. It was as if every faction in the Liberal Party had said that the price that they wanted for an apparent show of party unity on the issue was to have their pet peeve mentioned in Nelson's address. Consequently, as a speech, it was all over the place and lacked clarity, direction and grace. Many people stood and turned their backs to him when he spoke; some, I suspect, more for his past comments than for the content of the present speech.
4. Does an apology leave the Government open to compensation claims?
I don't believe so. If the Government is open to compensation claims then it would have been open to them whether they apologised or not. If you have done something wrong, refusing to acknowledge that wrong does not make you save from prosecution. This has been a myth in Australian political circles for far too long.
5. Is the apology the pathway to peace, love and happiness?
No, there is a lot of work to be done and there are many hurdles to cross when you are trying to both mix and save two cultures. But it has removed a barrier from the communication process that has loomed too large for too long. And that can't be a bad thing.