don't know why, but i had tears in my eyes when listening to kevin rudd read out the apology to the aboriginal community today. perhaps it was the memory of the film "rabbit proof fence", which personalised the experience of children taken away from their families. or perhaps it was the thought of anyone taking my own children away from me. it would be absolutely devastating. i can't imagine a life with any meaning if i didn't know where my children were or couldn't have contact with them.
it was a powerful moment, wonderfully done. the full text of the speech can be found here. the speech of brendan nelson, leader of the opposition can be found here.
the contrast between the speeches was vast. from kevin rudd we had:
I offer you this apology without qualification.
nelson's speech was full of justifications, of excuses for the inexcusable. i found his speech to be offensive and badly timed. having read through most of it, i now think it's a damn good thing that john howard never tried to say sorry. his refusal to do so was much more respectable than the speech from the current leader of the opposition. it's also a good thing that john howard stayed away - in this instance at least, you can't call him a hypocrite.
rudd's speech was offered with sincerity, and had practical solutions around provision of housing, early childhood education, primary & preventative health, and interestingly, "work on the further task of constitutional recognition of the first Australians". that sounds a lot like the treaty of waitangi, and i hope kevin rudd has the political strength to pull it off. it would probably be timed with australia's becoming a republic.
the speech did not deny the possibility of compensation, but rather skirted around the issue, leaving open the room for future debate. nelson, on the other hand, had this to say:
There is no compensation fund, nor should there be. How can any sum of money replace a life deprived of knowing your family? Separation was then, and remains today, a painful but necessary part of public policy in the protection of children. Our restitution for this lies in our determination to address today's injustices, learning from what was done and healing those who suffered. [emphasis added]
no, money can not replace a life. but it can help rebuild a life that has suffered from the consequences of policies put in place by the crown. what i found most offensive about the litany of failures and problems in the aboriginal community listed by nelson, was the inability to recognise that most of those problems resulted from the actions of the crown. the crown created the mess, it should pay to fix it. unfortunately, a "blame the victims" mentality seems to permeate the australian opposition and those who support them. instead, they should blame the perpetrators, and provide the victims the restoration and rehabilitation that is so badly needed.