News in Review: ‘Sorry’ means you don’t do it again

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Kevin Rudd’s apology seven years on.

WORDS || Madi Day

On Wednesday 14 February 2008, Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister, apologised to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians for their Stolen Generations. Forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families by the Australian colonial government and Church began in the 1800s and continued, as state and federal policy, until 1970. Kevin Rudd’s speech, on behalf of the federal government, lasted roughly four minutes.

Eleven years earlier the Human Right and Equal Opportunity Commission’s ’Bringing Them Home Report’ was released after a National Inquiry into forced removals. It offered fifty-four recommendations to promote healing for victims including apologies from the Church and state as well as financial compensation and social reparations for the families impacted. The Australian Government’s formal apology to the Stolen Generations had no mention of reparations. Later, in 2008 the Senate was presented with the ‘Stolen Generation Compensation Bill’. It was rejected.

Arrernte woman, writer and activist Celeste Liddle has noted that the apology to the Stolen Generations is often communicated as an apology to Aboriginal people generally, rather than for specific actions and policy. This is evidenced by the Australian Government’s website describing the event as ‘Apology to Australia’s Indigenous People’. On 13 February, Liddle wrote that Rudd’s apology “was BS because there was never any will to do anything tangible like provide compensation, nor has it actually stopped Aboriginal children being taken at exorbitant rates. People got their warm fuzzies on then nothing”.

In 2007, an Intervention occurred in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory under the Howard Government. It included the overtaking of finances and community affairs by the Australian Government and military involvement, and was heavily protested by Aboriginal leaders and their communities. It continued throughout Rudd’s time in office and, in 2012, was renewed by the Gillard Government for another ten years. The rates of suicide, incarceration, deaths in custody and child removal have all more than doubled since the Intervention began.

On National Sorry Day this year, Indigenous organisation, Grandmothers Against Removals (GAR) held a conference/protest at Matagarup, the Perth Tent Embassy, to address numbers of Aboriginal Australian children removed from their families by government ’child protection services’. In Western Australia, Aboriginal children make up almost half of those in the foster care system. GAR representatives believe that ‘child protection’ is also being used as an excuse to justify the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in WA and, that closure of these communities would have similar impacts to the NT Intervention, resulting in ‘more kids in foster care, more adults in prison’.

Seven years on from Rudd’s national apology, it is estimated that Aboriginal children are being removed from their families and communities by the Australian government at a higher rate currently than any other time in colonial history. While the apology offered some comfort to those that suffered from the Australian Government’s genocidal actions and policies, Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander people are yet to receive the reparation and justice they deserve.

* The author and publication acknowledge the Darug people, the traditional owners of the land on which Macquarie’s Campus stands. We acknowledge the Warawara department and all Indigenous staff and students on campus. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the communities and families impacted by forced removals. This always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.