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The Apology ten years on

  • 13 February 2018


Today we mark the tenth anniversary of the National Apology. All of us remember where we were that day when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd read the words of the parliamentary motion moved by him and seconded by Brendan Nelson, the Leader of the Opposition:

'The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

'We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

'To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.'

On 13 February 2008, Australia, through its parliament, moved from a denial of inter-generational guilt to an embracing of inter-generational responsibility for the bad as well as the good that has been done in our name 'Australia'. There was some tension in the air as Nelson spoke about the ongoing suffering, trauma, deprivation and violence in the lives of many Aboriginal communities culminating in 'too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living lives of existential aimlessness'.

The last word on the apology was spoken not by the parliamentarians who at that time did not include an Aboriginal person in their midst, but by those Aboriginal people in attendance wearing the black t-shirts emblazoned with just one word, 'Thanks'. The nation is all the better for an apology which was graciously offered by both sides of Parliament and graciously received by the Stolen Generations and their many supporters ten years ago.

The question of compensation remains unresolved on the national stage. Rudd was right to put the apology at the beginning of his prime ministership and to separate it from the issue of compensation. Most removals occurred before 1967 when the Commonwealth had no power to deal with Aboriginal people in the states. Most of the living now affected by removals were not themselves stolen but their parents were. Though they would