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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sorry - a new and national beginning


To-day is an historic day for the Commonwealth of Australia. In the Parliament of the nation, in Canberra, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will apologise to the Aboriginal people of this nation continent for the mistreatment of Aboriginal people since European settlement began in 1788. Above all, he will apologise for the forced removal of children from their families and communities - an episode referred to as The Stolen Generations.

There has been great demand for an apology since the recommendations handed down in the Bringing Them Home report. Prime Minister John Howard, Prime Minister from 1996-2007, refused to apologise. Howard - a mean-spirited, conservative, and stubborn man - merely expressed regret but went on to promulgate the lie that no ill-treatment was carried out in living memory.

One positive effect of Howard's inaction in this matter has been to increase resolve on the part of countless Australians to see the apology carried out. Most Australians want to resolve the issues and hatreds and maltreatments of the past. We do not want the bitterness, the recrimination to continue. We want to give expression to a new way doing things which is informed by the knowledge of our history good and bad. Australians want an inclusive nation - and certainly not one where the Aboriginal people are fringedwellers socially and economically.

And so yesterday a new beginning was made with the opening of the new Parliament. For the first time in Australian history, Aboriginal people were at the centre of the ceremonial inaugurating the new parliamentary term with a Welcome to Country ceremony. Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, both made clear that as long as they had anything to do with it, Aboriginal ceremony would become an integral part of the Opening of Parliament.

To-day, Aboriginal people will stand with the Prime Minister on the floor of Parliament for the delivery of the apology. The text of the apology, set out below, was tabled in Parliament yesterday and the apology is the first item of business in the new parliamentary term.

From time to time, on this blog, Miss Eagle has discussed the topic of public forgiveness. It has been discussed in the context of public figures apologising, saying sorry. How then does the public respond to that apology and advise if there is an acceptance of the apology and whether forgiveness is the response?

After the apology to-day, Miss Eagle expects that we will enter - for a time - the realm of public forgiveness. The apology will be discussed. We will hear critiques and criticism. We will find out who is satisfied with and by it and who is not. To-day we formally enter the time of new beginnings - of repair and building. All Australians are not at the same place on this matter. But enough of us are to carry the day throughout the nation, to demand inclusion, to demand involvement so that Aboriginal people are do-ers, not done to: so that they are self-determining actors in their own story and that all Australians - settlers and Aboriginal people together - will build a new and equitable way of operating to bring that great tradition of a fair go to everyone.


Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

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.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.