Rudd's apology was also our apology


SorryThe heat is on Kevin Rudd. On the second anniversary of the apology to Indigenous Australians, we look instinctively to the Prime Minister to tell us what he's done to improve the lives of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders over the past two years.

Doing his duty in Parliament on Thursday, he conceded that progress has been slow. Opposition leader Tony Abbott then criticised the Prime Minister for his focus on process rather than results. Tom Calma, who chairs the Close the Gap Steering Committee, said the government has no comprehensive plan to improve indigenous health.

The rest of us are relieved that we have Kevin Rudd to blame.

Rudd did put himself in the firing line when on 13 February 2008 he rose to the challenge and delivered on the promise to apologise. But while he may have voiced it, the Prime Minister is not solely responsible for the apology and what flows from it. We handed him the mandate to make it when we elected Labor to government a few months earlier. John Howard's strident refusal to countenance an apology was one of the reasons we tossed him out of government. We own the apology and whatever comes of it.

Thursday's speech was the Prime Minister's second annual report to the nation on what his government has done to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. When making the apology two years ago he promised to give a progress report every year.

It's turned out to be Kevin Rudd's moment of contrition, and we have looked on as spectators. We do need to know if we are getting value for money from the government we elected. That is our right and role as electors. There is much that the Federal Government needs to do in the near future, such as delivering on its pledge to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act in relation to the Intervention legislation.

However that's not the full story. It could and should also be our moment of contrition, a time for us to take stock of what we have done — locally and personally — to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

To cite an example, somebody tells us that Aboriginal youth have painted graffiti on a wall near where we live. We pass it on to our neighbour that Aboriginal youth have painted the graffiti. We have widened the gap. It may sound simplistic, but if we had chosen not to identify the race of the alleged offenders, we would have done something significant towards closing the gap.

Some Australians practise more overt discrimination when they oppose initiatives designed to improve Indigenous health or wellbeing, such as the construction or acquisition of premises for the purpose. The project they're opposing may adversely affect land values, or increase the perceived need for personal or other security.

If we decline any invitation to take part in the 'NIMBY' action, and indeed write to the local newspaper or speak against it in some way, we are doing our bit to close the gap. Moreover we add authority to any criticism we make of government action.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: National Apology, Stolen Generations, Indigenous Australians, Jenny Macklin, Intervention



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Existing comments

But what proactive examples can each of us offer? How have we stepped out towards closing personal gaps? What steps to become better informed, better acquainted, better educated on indigenous affairs? What cost have I gladly borne to "advance the process" rather than expecting the government to do it all?
Dennis Ryle | 15 February 2010

An interesting thought, Michael. "If we had chosen not to identify the race of the alleged offenders, we would have done something significant towards closing the gap". Is this a significant part of the problem? That is, do we exacerbate the gap by identifying not only the race of "alleged offenders" but also the race of those needing improved "health and wellbeing"? Let's drop the whole race business (and its attendant race bureaucracy)and concentrate on improving Indigenous health and wellbeing and reducing the number of Indigenous alleged offenders by tackling these and similar issues as 'whole-of-society' challenges. They are citizens on the wrong side of the gap (as are many non-indigenous) not because they are indigenous but because they are disadvantaged. That is how I would seek to mean it when I say sorry.
John R. Sabine | 15 February 2010

RAYY | 15 February 2010

I am with Rayy on this. Who is this "we" to whom Michael Mullins refers so readily? I did not vote for Kevin Rudd and I did not vote for an apology. Apologies can be issued only by the person or persons who themselves have done something wrong to others. An apology is an essentially personal act. Corporate bodies like nations, states, governments, peoples, races, are incapable of issuing apologies, by definition. I am quite happy with the idea of governments and other respresentatives of the Australian people or entities within them, such as business and the churches, expressing regret for the dispossession and sufferings endured by the aboriginal peoples of Australia since the arrival of the British and Irish. I am quite happy with a resolute and serious statement of purpose to do all that can be done to make up for the damage and to create circumstances under which the indigenous people of this country can flourish. What we need is fewer histrionics and more utilitarian initiatives and programs - uncontaminated by political correctness and reverse racism - to lift aboriginal standards of health, education, security, employment and opportunity. In other words, what is needed is to revisit the Howard model.
Sylvester | 15 February 2010

The comments on this blog exemplify the difficulty in alerting mainstream Australia to the woeful injustices that are done to Aboriginal Australians. We are either too apathetic to reply or racist. I am sorry that Michael Mullins has used such banal examples in his article. I challenge my fellow Australians to read Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man; watch the 4 Corners Report on the Death of Mr Ward in the back of a police van; or read the book on last year's government consultations, This is what we said. But most Australians haven't the courage to find out what is happening in our country today. How can you reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, for example, and maintain "special measures"? There are rivers of money going into bureaucracy in the Northern Territory while people wait for the appearance of a single house. Forget the graffiti argument... what we need is a nation who are really interested in what is happening in their own backyard in their name. But do they care enough?
Christine Valladares | 15 February 2010

What do you mean "when we elected Labor to government"? I did not vote Labor.
Ron Cini | 16 February 2010

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