Rudd’s apology on behalf of previous Australian governments for the Stolen Generations after eleven and a half years of silence under the Howard government was an enormous symbolic action and just a symbolic action.
The apology whilst welcome does not address the problems Aboriginal people face today. The difference between Labor and the Coalition is one of style not substance. Rudd still intends to pursue Howard’s policy of police and army intervention into the Northern Territory and perhaps extend it to other states. On the issue of compensation for the Stolen Generations both the Coalition and Labor are strongly opposed to any compensation.
‘Bringing them Home’, a government report about the Stolen Generations, details the systematic process of removing children from their parents for merely the fact of those parents being Aboriginal. The report labelled this action as systematic racial discrimination, a crime against humanity and genocide. It was delivered to the Howard government in 1997.
The report details a systematic forcible separation of children from family and community from colonisation up to the early 1970’s with a view to systematically destroy Aboriginal culture and the Aboriginal people often exploiting their labour.
The report estimates between one tenth and one third of all aboriginal children forcibly removed from family and community between 1910 to 1970.
The report stated, “In that time not one Indigenous family has escaped the effects of forcible removal”.
It is obvious that Rudd is a much slicker politician than Howard or the current Liberals. Much of the resentment built up over the Howard years will be very temporarily assuaged for many Aboriginal people because of the apology, but not for all and not for long.
Rudd skilfully neglected to mention compensation during his speech and apology. The government apparently has legal advice that the apology will not affect the status of claims for compensation. He put Brendan Nelson into a corner with his offer for Nelson to join him in a ‘war cabinet’ on parts of indigenous policy.
The response of the Liberal Party was far less skillful. Nelson did not get the point of the symbolic nature of the event. He said there should be no compensation fund as no amount of money could make up for loss of family and argued in part about the ‘good intentions’ of those who engineered the Stolen Generations.
‘Bringing them Home’ recommends reparations and compensation due to the violation of common law rights and human rights. Both the Coalition and Labor want to deny compensation. For them it is always dollars before people. If you cannot be compensated for genocide, what can you be compensated for?
Aboriginal people need more than empty words to address the problems they face. Today the struggle against the Northern Territory intervention, the struggle for land rights and for an end to police harassment reflects the struggle by Aboriginal people for the right to control their own lives.
The development of Australian capitalism has meant that Aboriginal people have had their land, their languages, their culture, their wages and their children stolen from them. All because their way of life did not fit in with the profit driven system.
The Socialist Party calls on the ranks of the labour movement to take on the demands of the Aboriginal people as their own. Likewise, the Aboriginal struggle for control over their own lives will only be successful if linked to the labour movement and the broader struggle for the socialist transformation of society.
Editorial comment from the March 2008 edition of The Socialist newspaper