Thursday, January 31, 2008

Apology to the Stolen Generations: not a moment too soon

Around the traps a few voices are saying Kevin Rudd is being overly hasty in making an apology to the Stolen Generations the first order of business of the new parliament on February 13. He should have consulted more widely, seems to be the criticism, and he should have made the apology something more than just a feel-good statement backed by nothing much else in terms of future commitments to indigenous Australians.

My gut feeling is that an apology is so long and painfully overdue, by at least 10 years, since the foundation of the National Sorry Day Committee, or a year earlier, in 1997, when the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission handed down its shocking report, that it is entirely apt that the apology takes place at the earliest opportunity in the life of the new Parliament. It is an opportunity not to be missed.

I know many indigenous and non-indigenous people, understandably, are cynical and unmoved by the prospect of an apology by the Australian Parliament, or at least by the ALP and Greens MPs (frankly, I doubt that many Aboriginal people, who all agree an apology is at least overdue, will give a toss about what the Liberals do or don't do on the day).

But it would be wrong, too, to underestimate just how important the apology will be to Aboriginal people, when it finally comes, including to the many who strongly support it being accompanied by other measures such as compensation to the Stolen Generations, an end to, or at least review of, the Northern Territory intervention, and the establishment nationally of means of genuine engagement with Aboriginal communities and more serious and properly funded efforts to meet the most pressing economic and social needs of indigenous Australians.

Canberra is definitely going to be the place to be on February 12, the first day of Parliament, when Matilda House the much-loved and indomitable Ngambri-Ngunnawal elder leads the Welcome to Country ceremony in the forecourt of Parliament House.

Please Rudd, make it a really good speech, at least. Think Keating's 1992 Redfern Park speech. It's going to be a very emotional day — a time of mixed and deep emotions — for so many of us.

I wish I could be in the forecourt on the Tuesday and in the public gallery to bear witness to the apology on the following day and be surrounded by all the people, dead and alive, who've ached to see such a day, who lost hope, or who didn't, or who never even dreamt that such an act was remotely possible.

It was possible and it will happen.

Only 13 more sleeps.

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