Friday, February 08, 2008

Saying sorry for a great crime that never happened

By Andrew Bolt

It's over, and all I can do now is offer a sincere sorry of my own. You see, no matter what, a sorry to the "stolen generations" will be read out in Parliament next week by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Rudd will say that sorry to "stolen" children no one can actually find, but few commentators and politicians seem to mind. Or care to notice. Most Liberals, cowed and cringing, will just back whatever Rudd says. Most journalists, teary over their own goodness, will praise it. And most Australians will sigh with relief, hoping a bit of well-meaning humbuggery will let us "move on". So it's over. The only thing I can hope for now is that if Rudd must read out an apology, he reads out a compromise like mine.

What has divided us so far is that Rudd is a sentimentalist who wants to say sorry regardless of the facts about the "stolen generations". But I am a rationalist who can only say a sorry that respects the truth - and no apology I've read, including the ones on this page yesterday, comes close. Mine does - not that I have much hope that even this last appeal to reason will work. To Rudd and other Say-Sorries it simply doesn't matter that there's no evidence any Australian government had a policy to steal children just because they were Aboriginal. See the evidence they've ignored.

In Victoria, for instance, the state Stolen Generations Taskforce concluded there had been "no formal policy for removing children". Ever. In the Northern Territory, the Federal Court found no sign of "any policy of removal of part-Aboriginal children such as that alleged". In Tasmania, the Stolen Generations Alliance admitted "there were no removal policies as such". In South Australia, the Supreme Court last year found no government policy to steal Aboriginal children there, either. Rather, stealing black children had been "without legal authority, beyond power and contrary to authoritative legal advice".

But none of that evidence matters to Rudd. Nor does it matter that no one has yet named even 10 of these 100,000 children we are told were stolen - stolen not because we wanted to save children in trouble, but because we wanted to "keep White Australia pure", as "stolen generations" author Prof Robert Manne put it.

Name just 10, I asked Manne in debates in print and on stage. He couldn't. Name just 10, I asked Stolen Generations Alliance spokesman Brian Butler last week on Adelaide radio. He wouldn't. Name just 10, I now ask the Prime Minister. He won't.

Even the Liberals, now desperate to seem more "compassionate", seem to know they will be saying sorry for a great crime that never happened. Here is Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, urging Rudd only to not say "stolen": "(I)t has pejorative connotations particularly for several generations of very good men and women from churches and other organisations who believed they were doing the right thing in removing these children."

But if these people really did steal Aboriginal children from good homes just to smash their culture and "keep White Australia pure", how on earth could they be "very good men and women"? That's like condemning slavery while praising slavers as "very good men" who only meant well.

But not even that matters. Rudd's apology is happening and all I can hope is that he can still hear a little voice telling him he has a duty to truth, and to the Aboriginal children today who will suffer if he lies. Because suffer they will. Already we read almost monthly of Aboriginal children who are bashed, raped or killed because social workers and magistrates are too scared by the "stolen generations" to "steal" them.

So, what is my own apology? No apology can do us good, dividing us by race and suffocating us with victimhood. But mine, I hope, can avoid most harm. My sorry will acknowledge that many Aboriginal children were indeed betrayed by their walk-away parents, white and black, and even by some institutions pledged to help them. But my sorry won't make our children ashamed for a society that still offers us all - Aborigines included - more freedom, health, justice and security than any before. My sorry will also have one other great virtue you'll see in almost none of the dozens of others suggested. Mine, at least, will tell no lies. That is because I have done what few others will: I have checked the histories of scores of the "stolen" children asking for this sorry, to see what it is we should be sorry for.

I've asked, for instance, why I'd say sorry to Lowitja O'Donoghue, the Stolen Generations Alliance's co-patron. O'Donoghue in fact was dumped at a children's home by her footloose Irish father, to be educated by missionaries.

For what should I say sorry to Peter Gunner, who sought compensation in the Federal Court for being "stolen"? Gunner, in fact, was sent to a home in Alice Springs with the written permission of his mother, to get a schooling.

For what should I say sorry to Topsy, named by Manne as a "stolen" child? Topsy, in fact, was just 12 when she was found, riddled with syphilis and far from hospitals, schools or police, with her parents unknown. For what should I say sorry to Mary Hooker, another Stolen Generations Alliance spokeswoman? Hooker, in fact, was removed with three of her 11 siblings because welfare officers thought she was neglected and "I was raped by my brother".

For what should I say sorry to Lorna Cubillo, who claimed compensation? Cubillo, in fact, was just seven, with no parents or even known guardian when she was found at a missionary-run ration camp in the bush, and sent to a home and school in Darwin.

For what should I say sorry to Molly, portrayed in Rabbit Proof Fence as a girl stolen to "breed out the colour"? Molly in fact was taken into care with the agreement of her tribal chief after warnings that she was in danger of sexual abuse and had been ostracised as a half-caste by her tribe.

For what should I say sorry to Archie Roach, famous for his song Took the Children Away? Roach, in fact, said yesterday he was removed when he was three because "word got around" he was neglected -- his parents weren't there, and his sister was trying to care for him.

For what should I say sorry to all the "stolen children" like these - activist Robert Riley, whose mother dumped him at a home; author Mudrooroo Narogin, who turned out to be neither stolen nor Aboriginal; claimant Joy Williams, whose mother gave away her illegitimate girl; bureaucrat Charlie Perkins, whose mother asked a boarding school to help her gifted boy; and "stolen generations" leader Annette Peardon, whose mother was jailed for three months for neglecting her children. And here's the sorry I say to them:

What makes us Australians helps make us human. As Australians, we believe in the dignity of each person, regardless of their race or place of birth, of their colour or creed. We believe that no one is a stranger to us, beyond our sympathy and our help. And we believe it is in offering such sympathy and help that we best realise our humanity.

But we are sorry. We are sorry that at times we have not as a nation, or as individuals, lived up to those ideals. We are but human, and, as all humans do, have failed and fail still. As a nation, we are sorry for those children that we harmed, when we meant to help. We are sorry that in helping many, we did not help all.

We have failed at other times as well. We are sorry for having taken, when we could have shared. We are sorry we have treated some as strangers, when in truth this is their sacred home.

But we are a people whose sins are small when set beside our virtues, which are great. We have as a nation desired to do good, just as we desire it now. We therefore commit ourselves anew to the purpose with which this nation was founded - to give every citizen the right and opportunity to live their life in peace, honour and freedom, under laws common to us all.

But more - we recommit ourselves, today especially, to our young, our lost, our helpless and our poor. They will not find us wanting as some have found us wanting before. This will be the measure of our repentance.

For our failings we are sorry. But for our ideals we are not. What has divided us can be overcome, and with the goodwill that compels us to say sorry today, overcome we surely will.


Rudd government to legislate income tax cuts

THE Federal Government has given the strongest indication yet it intends to deliver on an election promise to cut personal income tax. The Government has listed legislation, providing changes to personal income tax rates, thresholds and the low-income tax offset, as one of its priorities for the autumn sittings of parliament which start next Tuesday. The government has been under pressure to delay the cuts or pay them into superannuation accounts to ease inflationary pressures on the economy. But Treasurer Wayne Swan has said the Rudd Government won't renege on its promise to deliver $31 billion in tax cuts, with next year's instalment expected to cost $7.1 billion.

It will be the first time parliament sits since Labor won power from the coalition at the November 24 poll. As expected, the Government will introduce legislation to implement transitional arrangements for workplace agreements pending introduction of a new workplace relations system in 2010. The legislation, which could be introduced as early as next Wednesday, will start the process of paring back the former Howard government's controversial Work Choices laws which Labor promised to ditch during the election campaign. The legislation is likely to face opposition from the coalition-controlled Senate, especially on any abolition of Australian Workplace Agreements.

The Government's planned legislative program also includes establishing Infrastructure Australia - an advisory council with responsibility for developing a national strategy blueprint for the nation's infrastructure needs.

Changes will be made to social security laws to allow for the quarterly payment of the utilities and senior concessions allowances. The utilities allowance will be extended to recipients of carer payments and the disability support pension.

The military justice system will be given an overhaul with legislation putting into effect recommendations of a 2003 Senate inquiry.

The Government also intends to legislate for what it calls the "enhanced independence'' of the Reserve Bank of Australia. New laws will require the agreement of both houses of parliament before either the terms of the central bank's governor or deputy governor can be terminated.

Changes are also planned for vocational and indigenous education assistance.


NSW anti-spanking minister spanked own kids

The minister whose disgraced department broke up a family because a grandmother smacked her grandson has admitted he smacks his own children. The startling admission by embattled Community Services Minister Kevin Greene also puts the father of six in direct conflict with his own department's rule, which is that children should never be smacked.

The child protection sector is in an uproar following yesterday's revelation by The Daily Telegraph that children had been removed from their grandparents' home because the grandmother smacked her six-year-old grandson for playing in a stormwater drain. They were official DOCS carers and had looked after the three brothers and sister several times in the past six years.

Despite DOCS listing smacking as a "risk of harm" offence that must be reported, Mr Greene said spanking could have its place. "My wife and I have raised six children together. Three are now adults, two are in their late teens and our youngest is 12," he said. "There were times when our judgment has been that it was appropriate to smack the children. But we've moved past those days of toddler tantrums and disobedient kids." Mr Greene also said he supported the law in NSW that allows smacking but outlaws excessive physical punishment. "While discipline is a personal judgement for parents, one thing is paramount - the child's health and safety should never be threatened by the course of action parents take."

Foster care workers yesterday were asking how DOCS can punish foster carers for doing something their own minister has condoned. "It puts a lot of confusion in carers' minds when he is saying, 'Do as I say, not as I do'," Foster Care Association president Mary-Jane Beach said. "Some carers would agree that an occasional smack on the bottom doesn't hurt and they find the department's no smacking stipulation difficult. Why would you give a mixed message like that?"

The woman whose grandchildren have been taken away from her was furious at the apparent contradiction. "It is like the rich and the poor; you have one set of rules for one and one for another," Catherine (not her real name) said. "It was just to teach our grandson about getting down the drain. "If it's good for him (Greene) why isn't it good enough for the other parents and grandparents who only do it when a child mucks up?"

The fresh controversy comes amid calls to elevate the Community Services - currently a junior portfolio - to a senior Cabinet position. Mr Greene is a first-time minister accused of being out of his depth in his handling of recent child death cases. Andrew McCallum, from the Association of Children Welfare Agencies, said DOCS was not given enough importance by the Government.


Civil unions OK but weddings out for homosexual couples in Australia

The ACT is Australia's equivalent of DC

Gay civil unions are acceptable but an ACT bill that would allow couples to hold a public ceremony has been rejected by the Federal Government. Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said clauses in the ACT's civil partnerships bill allowing couples to mark their union with a ceremony were unacceptable. "We think a civil unions register along the lines of Tasmania is appropriate," Mr McClelland told The Australian newspaper. "The ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate."

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell said this week the territory would not back from its plans to allow gay couples some form of ceremony. "We will stand by our commitment to our community for the legal option for a ceremony - that is our position," Mr Corbell told The Australian. Mr McClelland declined to say whether the Rudd government was prepared to override territory legislation if the ACT defied the commonwealth and passed the bill.

The government has previously opposed gay civil unions and prefers a system of state-based relationship registers. A relationship register differs from a civil union in that it encompasses a broader range of relationships, including non-intimate ones, such as carer relationships.


No comments: