Australia: 10th anniversary of "Bringing Them Home report", & an apology still beyond PM Howard Print E-mail
The Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Thursday May 24 2007

Sorry again the hardest word to stolen generation

Prime Minister John Howard has again ruled out ever saying sorry to the stolen generation, on the 10th anniversary of a report into the difficult period in Australia's history.

[Scroll down to also read of Health Minister Abbott's refusal to say S-O-R-R-Y, and of Treasurer Peter Costello‘s "scandalous" budget, allocating $135 million over four years to Indigenous health, while setting aside for $123 million for a "very silly and totally unnecessary new citizenship test"]

While refusing to offer the apology sought by many indigenous Australians, Mr Howard said they deserved the greatest possible access to the bounty and good fortune available in this country.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the release of the Bringing Them Home report, which looked into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

It accused governments of committing genocide and called for an apology and compensation for the victims.

Mr Howard has consistently refused to formally say sorry as prime minister and today was no different.

Labor has promised a formal apology to the stolen generation if it wins government.

"I have a different attitude from the Labor Party in relation to a formal apology," Mr Howard told parliament.

"My view has not changed in relation to that and it will not change."

Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said an apology was a just and decent thing to do.

"An apology is not an empty gesture, it can in fact be a circuit breaker," she said.

"If we acknowledge wrong and assess honestly and vigorously what needs to be done we can move forward, and move forward we must."

Lowitja O'Donoghue, co-patron of the Stolen Generation Alliance, lambasted Mr Howard's attitude to the stolen generation.

"The prime minister either doesn't get it, or he doesn't care, and I am not sure which is worse," Professor O'Donoghue said.

But Mr Howard said he believed it was more important to embrace indigenous people into the mainstream of Australian life.

"I think (the coalition and Labor) are united in our desire to see the indigenous people of this country become in every way part of our mainstream Australian society while continuing to recognise their special place as the first Australians and continuing to recognise their right to treasure their own particular culture," he said.

"I have always held the view that the best way to help the indigenous people of this nation is to give them the greatest possible access to the bounty and good fortune of this nation, and that cannot happen unless they are absorbed into our mainstream."

Audience members at a forum held at Parliament House in Canberra to mark the report's anniversary constantly interrupted a speech by Health Minister Tony Abbott, calling for an apology.

Mr Abbott continued with his speech amid the heckling and audible groans from the audience.

The minister later said the debate on indigenous affairs had moved on from the issue of an apology.

"The important thing for reconciliation is what happens in the hearts of individual people," Mr Abbott said.

"A lot of very good things have happened over the last generation and I would rather dwell on the good that's been done rather than engage in something that which is more likely to be debated."



The Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Friday May 25 2007

Blacks, be patient: Abbott

By Stephanie Peatling

Tony Abbott sitting in the audience during the 10th Anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report commemoration (Photo: Andrew Taylor)

INDIGENOUS people have been patient but need to wait longer for chronic health and other social justice problems to be addressed, the Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, said yesterday.

At an event marking the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report on the stolen generations, Mr Abbott and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, were heckled with calls of "crap" and "say sorry".

Both maintained that no apology would be offered, but instead announced another 22 counsellors for a program that helps members of the stolen generations find their families.

"I admire your passion. After what you and your people have been through I understand your anger. But I know you're patient," Mr Abbott said.

After someone accused the Government of only funding the extra counsellors because it was an election year, Mr Abbott responded: "If things happen because of a democracy, isn't that a good thing?"

Later he said he believed indigenous people were better off now than when the Howard Government came to power in 1996. When asked to identify progress in the past 11 years Mr Abbott acknowledged more needed to be done but nominated an increasing number of friendships between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

The ministers earlier listened as an indigenous leader and member of the stolen generations, Lowitja O'Donoghue, express "profound sadness about how little has actually been achieved in terms of the wellbeing of Aboriginal people in this country".

"Aboriginal people, the first people of this land, are dying of despair while those in power look the other way," she said.

Professor O'Donoghue said she would continue to campaign for an official apology to the stolen generations even though she had no expectation of receiving one from the Prime Minister, John Howard. The latest budget was "scandalous", she said, because about $135 million over four years had been allocated to indigenous health, while $123 million had been set aside for the "very silly and totally unnecessary new citizenship test".

The Government has been firm in its refusal to apologise, instead concentrating on what it calls "practical reconciliation".

Mr Howard yesterday said he would always be against an official apology. "The best way to help the indigenous people of this nation is to give them the greatest possible access to the bounty and good fortune of this nation, and that cannot happen unless they are absorbed into our mainstream," he said.

Labor's indigenous affairs spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, promised a Labor government would apologise, saying symbolic gestures were an important part of reconciling all Australians.

"It's the just and decent thing to do," she said. "An apology is not an empty gesture. It can, in fact, be a circuit-breaker. If we acknowledge wrongs, and assess honestly and rigorously what needs to be done, we can move forward."

The Bringing Them Home report made 54 recommendations but 35 - including an apology - have never been acted on.

Indigenous health: how it compares

Life expectancy 17 years less than the rest of Australia. Health status 20 per cent less likely to report excellent health, 50 per cent more likely to report poor health.

Diabetes 3.4 times higher.

Funding Spending should be $460m higher, AMA says.

Cost 65 per cent of hospital cases involve preventable chronic conditions.