28 January 2008

The thin edge

This article was published in 2008 but could have been written at any time over the past decade. It's almost Howard-Costello in its sheer lameness.
But the fact is, problems remain with the practicalities of an apology. Getting it right is more important than getting it done in the first week of Parliament. Labor’s indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin acknowledged this today when she refused to put a deadline on saying sorry.

A few weeks ago, Sam, she announced that the consultation process could take months, and that it was inextricable from practical measures such as the NT intervention.
And practical responses to Aboriginal disadvantage will ultimately deliver more lasting solutions than pretty words.

Any suggestions as to what these might be? Any examples you can point to?
On a grubbier note, the great Sorry debate should also provide a fascinating opportunity for the new Labor government to turn the tables and “wedge” the battered Liberal opposition, who used the issue of an apology for years to divide and conquer the ALP.

Now, it is the Liberals who remain divided over the issue, which flared during the recent leadership vote and ultimately played a role in denying Mr Turnbull the top job.

Can you imagine people who might be even more directly affected by this issue, such as actual Aborigines? What do they think? What do you mean, you didn't ask them?
“Well, this whole question of a formal apology, I think the proponents, no less than the opponents, are getting hung up on semantics,’’ Mr Abbott said last year.

“Because, let’s face it, back in 1999 the parliament unanimously carried a resolution of profound and sincere regret about the various mistakes that had been made in terms of indigenous policy over the years.

“So who is playing word games here? This apology ... I would like to see precisely what words the incoming Government is proposing, because finding a form of words that is acceptable to everyone is going to be an extraordinarily difficult business. One of the other issues is going to be trying to find a form of words that doesn’t look like it’s an admission of legal liability.”

Let's be clear: Abbott said all that last year. These remarks were reported at the time and inserted into the political context of that time. You'd expect today's pap(er) to reflect the (very different) political context of today - unless, of course, you were an Australian reader. There is no indication that Brendan Nelson or anyone else in the Liberal Party is in violent disagreement with any of that (apart from, perhaps, Bronwyn Bishop or her mini-me, Sophie Mirabella). So much for "Libs divided over ‘Sorry’", Sam.

All Liberals, and everyone else too, can agree that the "resolution of profound and sincere regret" in 1999 made bugger-all difference to anyone and anything.

This article relies on stale information and stale assumptions (i.e. that wedging the Liberals is somehow important). It also assumes that symbolism can be divorced from practical measures, at the very time when everyone who works in and with Aboriginal communities agrees that it absolutely can't. For all their differences, the unity of symbolism and practicality is the one thing they agree on: so why is it an issue, why worth investigating with the eagle eye of Samantha Maiden, why now?

The articles we need now are about how to unify the symbolism and the reality of Aborigines in Australian society. You'll need people to think about that and depart from tired old standpoints that haven't really worked for anyone (except, perhaps, John Howard). It seems that you won't get that from Samantha Maiden or her employer.


  1. It seems there are those who want things fixed once and for all. They want actions and not words.
    And it seems there are those whose reaction is Problem? What Problem?
    If you cannot see a problem in the children living in fear - Little Children are Sacred - I would also suggest that Littled Children are Scared. Why should all the deprivations and the wicked abuse be hidden?
    There are those who benefit from people being kept helpless, scared, powerless and abused.
    There are those who have reached powerful positions - and from those high pulpits they can show their caring focus by screamning from their high pulpits (office/parliament/neighbourhood/area) about how much needs to be done.
    And money does get allocated.
    But where does it go?
    Not into actually finally absolutely fixing the problem.
    I want more passionate leadership from the Aboriginal Community. I like what Noel Pearson is saying.
    I want people who want to fix things once and for all. I want Aboriginal people to stand proud and capable and go forth confidently with their respect and dignity intact.
    But I often wonder if some people, even in the Aboriginal Community, find it all too hard to upset the applecart and show up those who are just profiting on the misery of their fellow man.
    Not to mention the European Bureaucrats who secretly over burden Aboriginal people with so much in (perhaps) the wish to see them fail so they can then say 'give it to me, I'll fix it ...' More failure for the Aboriginal people heaped on them. Because someone made sure they were not ready for the mountain to scale or the difficulties to deal with. Even white Bureaucrats fail as managers, even as human beings. And they still go on to other jobs.
    It is a terrible burden that Aboriginal people are not allowed to fail - cos that proves they are not 'ready'. But white men can fail and it's just the system, or other pressures, or a personality clash. And the white man already has the training and the background to see who's a snake and who's a wolf in sheep's clothing. And who is not Genuine.
    Forget this stupid written apology.
    Do something real.
    And I am sick of motherhood statements and broad smiles while Politicians pronounce they "care".
    Canberra Politicians and Canberra Press Gallery care about where their next latte will be served up more than they care about little children being raped and mothers being bashed and grandmothers desperately trying to keep the children safe while alcohol abuse is rife.
    And despite all these decades of Politicians "caring" there are still frightened women and children cowering in fear 24/7.
    And yet the intelligentsia?? want some politician to say some nice fancy words? And that will fix it overnight?
    And would any Canberra Press Gallery Journo really care? Cosying up to whoever currently has the most power seems to be their main aim. They know how to look after number ONE.
    I'm sick of it.
    Scrap the permit system.
    Do something about properly feeding, caring for and educating Aboriginal Children. Make it safer to just live for the children and their mothers and grandmothers. Get the children healthy and educated and this terrible shame that is visited on Aboriginal families might be addressed.
    At least also remember every Aboriginal person in Australia today is descended from awesome survivors. But it's getting harder while politicians fight over the right 'words' to say and keel over at the merest cough from NT policitians and University Lecturers who grandly announce that the permit system MUST stay in place.
    Get real please.
    and to those more sensitive souls offended by all the above. It is even worse than you think. I have not even started on pornagraphic videos brought into the community nor the sexually transmitted diseas that is suffered by little children, nor the hideously far too young mothers who get pregnant. Nor the grog runners who still ply their trade despite the sacred cow permit system. Nor the drugs that enter the community by the same route. All politicians should be made to spend a month in these communities, sleeping in tents outside. Hear the screams, hear the bottles breaking. Then tell me if they just want to keep talking about 'what nice words to say".
    Fix it like adults should. Please

  2. I take it this means our friend is opposed to the proposed apology from Rudd.

    I see the apology as a way of recasting the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia, rather than non-Aborigines seeing Aborigines as problems to be solved. If you regard "something real" as more flour and blankets, I say it isn't good enough. If you like what Pearson is saying then I'm sure you'll want the relationship recast and made more constructive.