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DAVID ADAMS reflects on this week’s apology…

It is a rare sight to see the Australian people – and, with some exceptions, the Australian Parliament – so united. But this is an issue that will not go away; an issue that Australia as a nation must – must – address. 

Wednesday morning’s apology was a watershed moment in Australia: for the first time we had a Prime Minister apologise to the stolen generations for the injustices they, and the indigenous people of Australia as a whole, have suffered.

“To the stolen generations, I saw the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification.”

– Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Mr Rudd’s apology and subsequent speech were marked by his use of the word which has gone unsaid for so long.

“To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry,” Mr Rudd said in his speech. “On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. I offer you this apology without qualification.”

It was a speech which saw an outbreak of celebration and emotion in Australia’s Parliament House and among the thousands of people who had gathered in public spaces around the country to witness the historic apology.

Putting the apology itself to one side for a moment – and the subsequent uproar over Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson’s speech, one of the most important things to come out of yesterday was the bipartisan commitment to tackle, initially, the issue of housing in remote indigenous communities.

In his speech Mr Rudd asked Mr Nelson – and Mr Nelson agreed during his speech – to set aside their political differences and join him in chairing a policy committee which will initially have a mandate to develop and implement a new housing strategy over the next five years, and if it “operates well”, will then look at the issue of constitutional recognition of the first Australians.

“The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics and to elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide,” Mr Rudd said.

It’s the success of such initiatives and other commitments made by Mr Rudd in his speech – such as a move to halve the “widening gap” in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities and in infant mortality rates between indigenous and other Australians over the next 10 years, and to close the 17 year gap in overall life expectancy within a generation – which will ultimately determine just how significant this week’s apology was; whether it signifies the beginning of genuine change or simply another unsuccessful attempt to address an issue that has been, as was said in parliament, “a shadow hanging over us”.

It is indeed time that Australia as a nation move forward with a new partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians and Christians from across the denominational spectrum – who have joined in welcoming the apology – have an important role in this, in both seeking the face of God in prayer and in looking for opportunities to help drive forward the change which must take place.

As Mr Rudd said in his speech this week: “So let us seize the day. Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection.”

Roll up your sleeves. The real work begins now.


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