February 14th, 2008


Full Text of Yesterday's Speech.

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification. We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering that we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted. We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied. We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments. In making this apology, I would also like to speak personally to the members of the stolen generations and their families: to those here today, so many of you; to those listening across the nation—from Yuendumu, in the central west of the Northern Territory, to Yabara, in North Queensland, and to Pitjantjatjara in South Australia.

I know that, in offering this apology on behalf of the government and the parliament, there is nothing I can say today that can take away the pain you have suffered personally. Whatever words I speak today, I cannot undo that. Words alone are not that powerful; grief is a very personal thing. I ask those non-Indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully understand why what we are doing is so important to imagine for a moment that this had happened to you. I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive. My proposal is this: if the apology we extend today is accepted in the spirit of reconciliation, in which it is offered, we can today resolve together that there be a new beginning for Australia. And it is to such a new beginning that I believe the nation is now calling us.

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Sorry Day

Yesterday, I wasn't sure that I'd have much to say after the apology. Oh, I figured that I would have opinions: I always have opinions. I just wasn't necessarily sure that they were opinions I'd have any particular interest in writing about.

Firstly, it needs to said that I was very pleased with the apology itself, and with Rudd's delivery and performance of it. I doubt anyone will consider the moment when he and others turned to the carefully selected representatives of the Stolen Generation behind him to applaud them as anything but a performance, but considering the nature of the day, performance was inevitable. Politics are a performance. The audience itself got to register its disgust with Brendan Nelson after in turning their backs and drowning out his voice, it in itself a performance. Of Nelson himself, I have to admit feeling sympathy for him, though not a lot. Asked to take the party line to the moment, to stand on the podium and deliver a speech that said, while slightly more intelligent than Rudd's, was nothing more than the sacrifice of a career for the sake of a party's ego. My sympathy stems from the fact that he will be the villain, not John Howard, not Peter Costello, not any of the now gone prominent figures from the previous leading regime; but it is not that Nelson is a virgin in politics, and not part of that regime.

What struck me, however, was as I skated through the TV channels of the event afterward, was just how white everything was in response to the day. The morning show hosts in their casual, but formal clothes, with their carefully organised hair and makeup, sitting on their couches with their cups of coffee, or in their faux news outlet, lacking ties and jackets like their counter parts in the evening. The way they spoke about how good it was, how important. How they bought up John Howard's absence--as if, shockingly, they expected him to take part--and then, afterward, moved the topic onto their usual topics of savings, family, and whatever. It was mainstream Australia, mainstream white Australia, taking a moment out of their day to acknowledge the occasion and it drove home to me not that the apology was not an end piece, nor was it a solution to the racial divides within the country, and neither did it signal that something had come to a close, as some suggested.

There was closure, but that closure was for a specific group of people, and I tend to think that the apology itself signaled a beginning, and that it's televised response indicated that divide that still exists not just between mainstream Australia and Aboriginal culture, but between white Australia and Multicultural Australia.

Or so it seemed to me, afterward.

But still, the most important thing was that, for the first time in over a decade, the right step towards bridging these divides was taken. It was a pleasure to see.
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