A sorry business

Brendan Nelson’s career as Leader of the Opposition looks to be over before he has even faced the Rudd government in Parliament, thanks to his equivocation over the issue of an apology to the Stolen Generation. If Nelson was fair dinkum about supporting an apology, given the appropriate words, he could have made a positive virtue of it, saying something like “This apology needs to come from the Parliament, not just the government. I’m willing to work with Mr Rudd in preparing a statement that will have unanimous support”.

As it is, he will end up being forced through every possible position from outright opposition to conditional support to the final stage when he’ll be forced to deal with the hardline rejectionists in his own ranks.

A unanimous vote of Parliament is essential here. If Nelson fails to take firm action (expulsion and withdrawal of endorsement) against any Liberal who crosses the floor, his failure as a leader will be complete.

Nelson’s problem is that denouncing the Stolen Generation is a cause celebre for the hardliners who gave him for the job and for the culture war dinosaurs (Quadrant, the Bennelong Group and so on) who cheered them on for years. In this sector of their parallel universe, the treatment of Aboriginal Australians was a successful exercise in Christian philanthropy until leftist do-gooders took over in the 1960s. They won’t let Nelson, who is basically a decent person, do the right thing, at least not without a fight.

It’s a pity. Most people are ready to move beyond ideological pointscoring and embrace any policy option that will actually deliver improved living standards and reconciliation. If we are going to move forward, we need to acknowledge how badly our country has failed in the past, and an apology is an essential element of this process.

129 thoughts on “A sorry business

  1. Andrew: Ian – the last time I looked, Charles Pearson and Mick Dodson weren’t walkabout in the outback eating roast goanna on a stake.

    And I seriously doubt that you’ve painted yourself with woad or sacrificed to The Horned God any time recently.

    Cultures change, evolve and adapt.

  2. So let’s test the hypothesis that the forced removal of children was driven a by a need to improve their wellbeing:

    “The infant mortality rate is used internationally as one of the key indicators of community health. It is defined as the number of infant deaths (deaths of children less than one year of age) for every 1000 live births. Among Indigenous Australians there was an exceedingly high rate of infant mortality of around 100 infant deaths per 1000 live births—recorded as recently as the mid-1960s. In subsequent years, there was a steady and precipitous decline to around 26 per 1000 by 1981, with much of this due to improvements in post-neonatal mortality. While further improvement in infant survival also occurred during the 1980s and 1990s, this has been less impressive, with Indigenous infant mortality rates remaining consistently around two and a half times the Australian average.”


    In other words – infant and child mortality dropped drastically at the same time Australian governments stopped abducting children “for their own good”.

  3. Now, IG, you should know better than that. Stipulating your data, it doesn’t show anything of the sort you claim. It would also need data about the mortality of the removed children, and it would need some sort of data to test and eliminate alternative hypotheses, e.g. removals stopped because of improvements.

  4. No, IG, we do not “know exactly why removals stopped – the Whitlam Government was elected”, because we do not know whether they had reached the end of the line for other reasons. As I said before, to get your conclusions out of your data, you need the right sort of data to test for it. That doesn’t mean another assertion about chains of causality; if you do that, as you just did, the effect is only to require data to support that in its turn. Get the data, line your ducks up in a row, and then you have support for your conclusion – until then it remains a plausible hypothesis at best.

  5. If most of the “rescued generation” had not been removed from the dire circumstances in which they were living, it is unlikely they would have made it to adulthood.

  6. Does it matter when the removals stopped, or any of the other white supremist nonsense. I’m not saying ‘sorry’ because of the manner that indigenous people have to live, that is a separate issue entirely, and I don’t think the government is aplogizing for that, it’s for the damage done to people because they were removed for the sole reason of being ‘half castes’ or other than having the darkest skin. That was the reason. Now, the removing the gap in life expectancy and other issues are ones that we (non-aboriginals)- demand as our right in this rich country. Governments for a hundred years have neglected these aspects of aboriginal quality of life. The infant mortality figures are more like those of a third world country, not those of a so-called civilized and rich country like this one.

    I’m still reading about the life of Mum Shirl a wonderful aboriginal woman in NSW. She tells of having to stay ‘out the back’ of a public hospital when she was pregnant and seeking medical supervision in an out patients department of a NSW country hospital; this was only the 1950’s people, not back during white settlement. Also, if there was a shortage of beds in labour ward, the whites got the beds in the rooms, and aboriginal women were left in the corridoors etc. I think some people on this site should read more about the actual realities people were exposed to, not try to nitpick people like me with a genuine desire for justice and dignity. I can’t imagine what it must be like to look at your self in the morning, and know, that because of skin colour, you’d probably have to put up with crap from some or all of the people you came in contact with for that day. For that to happen every day is horrific, no wonder aboriginal people of all countries have a shorter life expectancy, it would be enough to make you sick. Then there’s what happens to your kids during the day, and how to get them to go back to school after being bashed up or confronted in a store or whatever.

    Why is it only the left who are outspoken about these things? Is it because the right are selfish bastards with only a biased view of the world – if it interferes with our profits let’s get rid of it – equal pay, human rights, non-racist educational policies and the same access to health, education, housing and employment. It was not all that long ago, that any white person had the right to complain because an aboriginal child attended; the parents of the aboriginal child were told to keep them at home. There are lots of facts that were at best, highly discriminatory and even though changes have taken place, you only need one person per day to make your life hell, particularly if you are only a child.

    If we don’t wish to comply with the human rights declarations of the UN or elsewhere, then we should say so, but as far as I’m aware, Howard did reaffirm to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child. We need to shut up and start putting them into action, and that includes apologizing for the forced removals that took place for over 70 years. These were for the specific reason of removing the race from the landscape, and not for other reasons, eg, a dysfunctional family emvironment. Read the Bringing Them Home report, or the others that document these shameful realities. I hope to be there on Wednesday, as I was during the Walk Over the Harbour Bridge, the 1967 Referendum and in a personal sense whenever I can. As for those who still persist in the ongoing hurtful and racist argument, splitting hairs etc, then, so be it, we’ll get on with it without you, as Mick Dodson also said during that amazing speech at the Opera House on 26 May 2000,”its not worth the bloody effort”. In fairness, he was responding to Howard’s refusual to say the ‘sorry’ word. I’m not surprised that Howard’s rejected the invitation to attend; he’s a typical ‘little man’ shrivelled and shrunken by mean spirited nastiness, that appears to be motivated by ingrained racism, sexism and class’ism’. He’s a pathetic and barren person, who I’m ecstatic is off the political or social landscape. My hope is, that justice will eventually catch up with him. I live in hope!
    Aboriginal people are members of the population, now included in the Census, and as such they’re entitled to claim compensation, with or without the ‘sorry’ word being uttered in the national parliament. Other countries have done better than us, in fact New Zealand has a Bill of Rights. No-one is arguing that these countries (NZ, Canada and the US) have all the answers, but they’ve made better progress than we have. Howard wasted another almost 12 years, and life for many is worse not better!

    There’s an amazing woman called Jane Elliott, who’s been doing amazing things in relation to jolting people about the destructive repercussions of racism. She started the “Blue Eyed Brown Eyed” awareness campaign; as a school teacher in the US after the assasination of Martin Luther King Jnr. She’s been travelling the world for over 40 years, and has visited here also. Her documentary was the most viewed program of SBS at the time; it’s awe inspiring, challenging, emotional and painful for many of the contributors, and viewers I might add. It’s worth watching!

  7. “If most of the “rescued generationâ€? had not been removed from the dire circumstances in which they were living, it is unlikely they would have made it to adulthood.”

    So what changed in the 1970’s?

    I’m sure it wasn’t the socialistic wasteful socially divisive pandering-to-special-interests increase in spending on spending on Aboriginal health brought in by the aforementioned Whitlam government.

  8. Ian Gould Says:
    February 10th, 2008 at 6:13 pm
    “If most of the “rescued generation� had not been removed from the dire circumstances in which they were living, it is unlikely they would have made it to adulthood.�

    Note from JQ. Ian Gould is quoting an earlier comment from “Steve at the Pub” and responding to it, not stating his own view. This comment is properly directed to SATP “

    Ian, whose fault was that? The same people who trot out all the reasons why women should be happy with less pay for less work, seem to be at the peak of those apologists like yourself. The fact was, that too many people through their narrow prism of racism didn’t think indigenous people were ‘human’ like them. This made it easier for them to use their paternalistic and hateful befuddled sick minds to poison them or murder them by other methods, read Demons at Dusk, Peter Stewart, read Alan Ramsey’s article of a weekend ago (available on the net). They removed kids because they wanted the aboriginal race to die out. FACT! They said as much!

    When other people do me the honour of confiding experiences of great personal, emotional and/or financial pain, I don’t go on a rampage of telling them how much better off they are. I’d be an insensitive shit to do that. Why are people doing it as a response to Kevin Rudd’s promise last May 27, to apologize to the stolen generations, whose lives have been full of pain, regret, grief, poverty and other forms of misery that I can only imagine. I know where I came from; I had my 8 siblings and my parents who loved me; this helped me learn how to nurture and care for my own 3 sons. I have history and similarities and differences; talents and mannerisms to contrast and compare. Some of these aboriginal people were and still are denied all these things, that I and my kids take for granted. My grand kids are surrounded by an extended and loving family. Three of these are descendents of another indigenous people from Central America, who fortunately did not have this terrible tragedy in their lives, nor did their parents, but they did have to flee for their lives, and family is sacred to them!

    Yes, many have made successes of their lives in a material and financial sense, but there is still that pain in their heart. I can relate to it as I lost a much loved sister 18 years ago. We were very close, she was my best friend, and then, a car accident (no fault of hers) and she’s gone. I miss her still, there’s always this part of your heart that is still sad; time just allows you to get used to the absence. How much worse would it be not to have such relationships. Some children, who were ‘lighter’ than their siblings were removed. Imagine that horror! How much worse would it be for those mothers who were raped and then ignored once they were pregnant! Some were even murdered when their pregnancy showed.

    This is not about a cold and calculating assessment of the rights or wrongs, this is about the ‘blood and guts’ of peoples’ psyche. I can have empathy and understanding, why are people having such a mind bending discussion about it. I have no problem with saying how ‘sorry’ I am that these terrible injustices happened to them, no problem at all. It’s not how you or I think or feel, it’s how they think and feel. Aboriginal people who suffered, who lost their families, and parents who lost their babies are going to Canberra in droves. That’s how important it is to them,that’s good enough for me! I’m hopefully going too, and I’m sure I’ll be moved to tears by peoples’ responses. That’s what makes us human beings! Then we’ll make sure that the ‘nuts and bolts’ of reconciliation get under way; removing the gap, that shameful 17 years of life expectancy differences, health, education, housing and real employment possibilities. We can all do it together and reconcile, or we can continue to tear the country’s ‘soul’ to shreds.

    You know, even if people only have the very selfish thought, that a united nation is better for our kids and grand kids futures, and are determine to make a difference, we can make a wonderful country really great! Let’s start!

  9. I have to agree with Naomi. There doesn’t appear to be much concern here for how Aboriginal people would react to such an apology – mostly people seem concerned with how non-aboriginals feel about it. Ask any person who identifies themselves as aboriginal and you’ll hear tales of injustice commenters here would not tolerate, from the petty distrusts and dislike to horrific abuses, done to them, their kin and ancestors.

    Whether the instigators of a policy of removal had well meaning motives or not, the reality was too often cruel and heartless, often carried through by people who considered aboriginals sub-human nuisances, who believed that such children and parents were incapable of the kind of prolonged hurt, distress and resentment forced separation inflicts on “civilised” people. That they were already displaced, dispossessed and marginalised was surely a contributing factor in the apparent squalor and brutalities the “well meaning” thought they were “rescuing” children from. Having not experienced generations of marginalisation the average white Australian cannot conceive of the the erosion of spirit that it brings – or have sympathy with the anger and defiance of authority that is bound to break out.

    Would most australians maintain their “superior” behaviour and remain law abiding and respectful of Authority were they subjected to a similar fate? Personally I doubt they would have the dignity and decency so many aboriginal people manage to maintain.

    An apology could mean a lot to them and be symbolic of far more than the hurt from that specific policy.

  10. Good on you Ken! I couln’t agree more. I’ve read quotes of those who made and enforced the removals, and their attitudes that the ‘mothers didn’t seem to mind their children going, and got on with little response’ was another racist and derogatory attitude that aboriginal people weren’t like ‘the rest of us’. Hideous!

    I can’t go to Canberra tomorrow, no lift, but will go to an Aboriginal Cultural Centre and share the joy and tears of aboriginal people who were and still are suffering the pain of separation. This is a good way to spend tomorrow, with real people, sharing real lives and experiences. I’ll put the tape on before I go, and keep the ceremony for the future – show my grand kids, who’ll be at school!

    Any indigenous people on this site – will be thinking of you tomorrow. Peace and Joy!

  11. Thank you for your writing Naomi. Especially your description of the ex-PM:

    a typical ‘little man’ shrivelled and shrunken by mean spirited nastiness, that appears to be motivated by ingrained racism, sexism and class’ism’. He’s a pathetic and barren person, who I’m ecstatic is off the political or social landscape.

    That mean-spiritedness is shared by his partisans. For example, in response to the apology, we get linked to an irrelevent snippet of a story about a violent act in an aboriginal community, accompanied by a sarcastic snark. the point? it assuages his hurt White-Australian pride.

  12. Nothing will assuage my hurt white Australian pride as a member of a generation now engaged in ritual, feelgood symbolism whilst passing the buck for it’s gross shortcomings to its more astute and effective forbears, all the while sending the little children home again. Nothing whatsoever.

  13. Good on you Ken! I couln’t agree more. I’ve read quotes of those who made and enforced the removals, and their attitudes that the ‘mothers didn’t seem to mind their children going, and got on with little response’ was another racist and derogatory attitude that aboriginal people weren’t like ‘the rest of us’. Hideous!”

    Well you have to remember Naomi that talking back to a white here in Queensland was enough to get you exiled to Palm Island.

  14. Observa’s bizarre non sequitor forces me to remind people once again that INFANT MORTALITY FELL BY 75% IN THE NORTHERN TERRITORY IN THE DECADE AFTER FORCED REMOVALS STOPPED.

    Of course, I see Observa still hasn’t gotten around to answering my questions from earlier in the thread.

  15. “Nothing will assuage my hurt white Australian pride as a member of a generation now engaged in ritual, feelgood symbolism whilst passing the buck for it’s gross shortcomings to its more astute and effective forbears, all the while sending the little children home again. Nothing whatsoever.”

    Observas you can take heart that Aborginal children continue to be institutionalised at vastly greater rates than other Australians.

    Of course, we now require (sometimes anywhere) more proof of parental incompetence than the color of one’s skin.

    Tell me, do you expend even a tenth as much outrage and angst over the much larger number of non-aboriginal children who’ve been failed by the various state children protection services?

    Maybe the answer is to remove all children from their parents and raise them in state creches.

  16. Hmm, it’s strange but the sky seems not to have fallen in.

    I’m sure it’s coming though, along with the plagues of locusts.

  17. “Indigenous children comprise 3.6% of the total population of Australian children

    Indigenous children comprise 22% of the OOHC population”


    OOHC means Out of the Home Care.

    I know you’d like it be higher Observa but surely you can take some comfort in the fact that Aboriginal children are 5 and a half times more likely to be removed from their families as other Australian kids.

    Obviously that’s an unreservedly good thing because as we all know nothing bad ever happens to children in foster care.

  18. “If as you claim the children were removed solely to protect them, why is it only mixed-race children were removed?”

    Lots of reasons but largely because these children were the most visible tip of the iceberg, largely being neglected the most, if not downright ostracised by full-bloods, along with mostly their mothers. Of course this was an era where divorce was socially frowned upon, let alone actually paying single mothers to have half a dozen kids out of wedlock with half a dozen different sperm donors. This generation would have been deeply ashamed at the moral antics and concomitant results of some of its own kind. How dare they not attack the whole problem all at once, is the typical leftist retort. Never mind this was the generation that moved into a new house with sheets or newspaper on the windows, with a few sticks of secondhand furniture, to wait for kerbing, roads and footpaths and sewerage. And while they were busy fighting communists and Asian dominos, they were also busy building the infrastructure and community facilities, not to mention the new universities to send their kids to, to learn to solve the remaining problems of the world they’d so clearly neglected. Pretty decent of them to leave something for the well papered, plugged in and switched on McMansion generation to do, wouldn’t you say?

    “Is it just Aborigines who report having been sexually and physically abused in foster care who you think are either liars or deluded?”

    Who said I thought they were all liars, although I know only too well the delusions of some who fell into the hands of recall therapists and their victim seeking ways. Do paedophiles largely work on building sites? Not much raw materials to ply their filthy trade there but if we did catch any of them indulging in some extra-curricular activities, then trust me, they’d become another of those unfortunate statistics you read about and on that management and labour would be as one. When we go into schools and kindys, we fence the little blighters off for their protection. We know only too well how some of those caring sharing types have ulterior motives around kids, but we don’t tar all teachers, foster carers, etc with the same brush. We know child abuse of all kinds goes on, but it goes on most where adults lack decent, hard working, white picket fence values like ours and we’re not ashamed to say so. That’s the problem for woolly headed liberals and Their ‘all cultures are equal’ bullshit. They mostly bring up their families exactly like we do because they know it works and then in the next breath reckon it’s all unimportant. Wankers!

  19. As for the idea that this apoly requires us to be ashamed of our parents:

    MY parents were active campaigners for Aboriginal rights from the 1940’s onward.

    I grew up around Aboriginal kids including some who stayed in short term voluntary foster care with my family while their parents were in prison or undergoing treatment for alcoholism precisely so those kids would not be removed from their parents permanently.

    Today is a vindication of my parents. It is a vindication of the thousands of other Australians black and white alike who opposed forced removal. It is a vindication for the majority of Australians who voted yes in the 1969 referendum on Aboriginal rights and who elected the Whitlam government.

    The only thing for which I personally am sorry today is that my father didn’t live to see the culmination of so much that he worked for during his life.

    For me this is a joyous day, because by acknowledging the mistakes of the past, we can continue the long slow painful process of joining together as one single proud Australian nation, black and white alike.

  20. a typical ‘little man’ shrivelled and shrunken by mean spirited nastiness, that appears to be motivated by ingrained racism, sexism and class’ism’. He’s a pathetic and barren person, who I’m ecstatic is off the political or social landscape.

    I guess the irony is lost on Naomi, but that – along with almost everything written about Howard by the Australian left – is an extremely mean spirited and nasty remark.

    If this is really about reconciliation and not retribution, why does nearly every left commentator use the issue as a platform to bash Howard, a thrice reelected Prime Minister?

  21. Mugwump: “that… is an extremely mean spirited and nasty remark.”

    I note that you chose not to dispute its accuracy.

  22. I chose to ignore Howard in my most recent post on the apology, and I think we should all do likewise. His silence is sufficient.

  23. Ah yes, the Australian electorate got it wrong four times. Little did we realize. Needless to say Ian, I dispute the accuracy of the remark.

    For the record, I remain entirely unconvinced that this “apology” is anything more than yet another utterly meaningless lefty gesture.

  24. It may have been meaningless to you, but it wasn’t addressed to you. it wasn’t meaningless to the people that it was addressed to, or to those capable of feeling empathy for those to whom it was addressed.

  25. A lot of closet racists defending Nelson’s speech are saying that Rudd “Started it” by talking about the “stubborn” silence of the previous government.

    If you want to play that game, I think you would have to say that Howard’s decision not to attend was the original shot across the bow.

    Let us hope Howard stays off the stage for a good, long time. I cannot see him getting a very pleasant reception anywhere in Australia for some time.

    Howard is soon heading off to the USA to pick up an award from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. He is also hoping to get a knighthood from the Queen in London. Maybe he should just remain overseas?

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