Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Australia's Apology

Quick- think Australia. What comes to mind? Kangaroo's, Crocodile Dundee, Didgeridoos, and novelty-sized cans of Fosters? How about a progressive, outspoken prime minister who's fluent in Chinese and just issued a much-needed and heart-felt public apology for his government's past injustices?

Kevin Rudd, serving in his second year as Australia's prime minister, opened the 42nd parliamentary session with a booming condemnation of the government's inhumane treatment of indigenous Australians. The Australian Aboriginal population, estimated by the Human Rights Watch at four percent of the population, have been forced into slavery, subjected as sub-human, and many thousands of Aboriginal children were snatched from their parents and sent to church homes or foster care, for forced "civilization."

Here are Rudd's Comments, obtained from the Angus Reid global monitor:

"We reflect on their past mistreatment, we reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations—this blemished chapter in our national history. (...) The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page. (...) This was a product of the deliberate, calculated policies of the states, as reflected in the explicit powers given to them under statute. (...) We apologize for the hurt, the pain and suffering we the Parliament have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted."

It's a nice change of pace for a politician to acknowledge past injustices and ensure steps will be taken to address them. This logic, however, can quickly descend down the maddening slope that invariable forms around this type of issue. Should current governments be forced to apologize for their predecessors' woes? When are reparations warranted? Certainly, this case is a unique example. The Australian government's policy of forcibly separating Aboriginal families did not end until the late 1960's. Since then, there has been little but silence. The egregious gap in living standards between Australia's indigenous people and the lighter-skinned immigrants is inescapable. An apology was essential, and steps to remedy the inflicted wrong are still needed.

As February ushers in Black History month here in America, whispers of reevaluating our policy of slavery reparations linger in liberal forums and political smoke-rooms. Should the U.S. government follow Australia's lead and apologize for its past abuses? Acknowledging that such abuses exist would be a proper first step. From there, answers fade into a politically charged fog of uncertainty.

All Americans and Australians, however, can grieve together over one monumental tragedy- the death of Heath Ledger. No apologies, just tears. Rest in peace good knight

1 comment:

Jon Gold said...

The aborigines also get to give Kevin Rudd a booting for the introduction of Yahoo Serious into a fragile ecosystem.