Tag Archive for 'Labor'

An apology for what?

For any non-Australians in the audience, the new Australian government is doing what the previous lot refused to do: apologise on behalf of the parliament and government of Australia to the indigenous people of Australia for the forced removal of children from their families for approximately 100 years until 1969.

I want (as should be little surprise to anyone who knows me) to abstract away from the specifics of this a little. When is an apology for some past injustice warranted?

Should we hold the actions of the past against the moral standard of today, especially if those actions were held to be just at the time? If the answer is ‘yes’, how far back in history is it acceptable to apply our outrage? We don’t judge the Romans for having sex with children or the Aztecs for their human sacrifices – we simply view them as having taken place in an environment of ignorance.

The Aztecs were not only a long time ago, but also from a different cultural heritage to us. The Romans were a long time ago and also our cultural ancestors, so we can’t simply say that we only judge our own.

So where (and why) do we draw a line in the sand?

If someone can explain that to me, then I can happily endorse the apology (I already accept it). People who argue that since we didn’t do it (after all – we weren’t around then) we shouldn’t apologise are missing an important point: The government and the parliament of Australia were around then and did play an active role. The difference between the (wo)man and the office is important here. The office of the government of Australia did the Bad Thing. If it is right to judge the past against the moral measures of the present, then it is also right for the office of the government of Australia to apologise. The particulars of who is occupying that office now is of little consequence.

The only way out, from my point of view, is if there were a significant change of constitution in the intervening period, so that it might be legitimately said that the government of today is not in any way the government that existed at the time. Is that why we let the Romans off the hook? We would judge them, only they don’t exist any more?

Back to the particulars: I don’t really mind whether we call it tyranny (although I think that choice of words is inflammatory) or whether Labor supporters want to poke fun at the Coalition (although I think that at least some of the Coalition’s concerns are legitimate). I think that the apology is a symbolic gesture that, on its own, will help not at all. I think that the Aboriginals of Australia have complaints (most but not all of them legitimate) far deeper and wider than the stolen generations and that the stolen generation issue simply became an emblematic focal point.

The apology is no skin off my nose and if it makes people feel better for a while, go nuts. But don’t try telling me that it’ll do a damned thing to improve the lives of Aboriginals in Oz. For that we need real policies of support from the government and real acknowledgement of the realities of the world from the Aboriginal community.

Update:  I got an excellent response from a good friend of mine.