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Australia’s Apology… of Sorts


Its only one more day until Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offers an apology Wednesday morning to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation. For those unfamiliar with the Stolen Generation, it was a systematic effort that forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal children from their communities, homes and parents, the report commissioned on the Stolen Generation comments on the impact of the forced removals-

"Nationally we can conclude with confidence that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities in the period from approximately 1910 until 1970. In certain regions and in certain periods the figure was undoubtedly much greater than one in ten. In that time not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal (confirmed by representatives of the Queensland and WA Governments in evidence to the Inquiry). Most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children"

Such actions were an extension of the ‘White Man’s Burden’ mentality of protecting the ‘savages’ from themselves. Such racism has a direct connection with the current approaches and policies towards Indigenous communities.

So within this context, the Rudd Government announced that it was reviewing and consulting with communities as to the wording of an apology. As this process has gone along, the more diluted the final outcome has become.
What should have been a process free of partisan bickering, has been played out for political point scoring as the conservative opposition party has sniped and questioned the process, wording, and meaning of the apology. The Rudd Government too has failed to make such an occasion truly meaningful, with drafts of the apology indicating that compensation was not part of the apology and reconciliation process. Along with this, Rudd has indicated that the apology is on behalf of the Australian Parliament, not the nation or people, but parliament.
The last few weeks have seen what could have be a meaningful if symbolic step towards reconciliation devolve into the absurdity of rich, white men politicizing and debating semantics, with a media willing to follow, as the framing of the apology has been steadily reduced into a somewhat hollow document and gesture.
News reports and coverage of the apology have seen the framing shift ever so slightly, with the addition of qualifiers- moving from National Sorry, to Stolen Generation apology. While the differences seem minor, it highlights the shift in conception that apology has taken.
Throughout the 11 year conservative rule of John Howard, ‘Sorry’ was a taboo word, a word that has since been much debated, but was always discussed in a National context ie- the nation being able to say sorry to Indigenous Australians. What was also always understood was that such an apology was never going to pass John Howard’s lips, hence it was somewhat safe for the media to frame the issue of ‘Sorry’ in such a context.
Come a new government, and the time to make an apology and the conception of ‘National Sorry’ has shifted into the "Parliamentary Apology for the Stolen Generation without Options for Restitution"

Such reductionist framing also eliminates acknowledgement of genocide and invasion, of the colonial domination of Aboriginal land and people, of a racist history and past that is extends further than the Stolen Generation, a history that facilitated the Stolen Generation and the racist policies and attitudes today. Such exclusions from any apology further reduce its meaning or relevance to any meaningful move towards reconciliation.
So after 11+ years of waiting, of anticipation for change, or making amends, the moment is here and the sense of anti-climax, of lost opportunities, is already in the air, even before sorry is spoken. Whats more sad too, is that media coverage of the day will pontificate on its importance. On its role in healing race relations, further marginalizing those who rightfully argue that Australia is still an inherently racist society, while ignoring that the very structures of Indigenous oppression are still in place. Such a hollow apology will surely be used by those in conservative politics and the talkback pundits, for their own gain, to highlight its lack of impact and that ‘stronger’ measures should have been used such as Howard’s last hurrah of military intervention into remote Aboriginal communities to yet again ease the ‘White Man’s Burden’  The apology can then be presented as the end of the process rather than the beginning, allowing blame to yet again be dumped on the oppressed, while absolving the oppressors. the "Hey, what more can we do, we said sorry, what more do ‘they’ want?" type of attitude.
While such a situation can be seen as a failure of leadership, of vision, which in many ways it is, more so its a sad reflection of modern two party politics that show how all actions and issues- great and small- are channeled, redirected, appropriated and disconnected from any meaning,  to serve the interests of the few, over the needs of the many.

Wednesday is still to come, there’s always a chance I could be proven worng (I hope Im proven wrong), but I wont be holding my breath

 

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