Today our Prime Minister made an important step in Australian history, by apologising to indigenous Australians for past injustices. However, I think the focus on the so-called Stolen Generation was wrong.
It is true that successive Australian governments did take indigenous children from their parents, that they did so in large numbers, and that this did cause harm. And we should be sorry for it.
However, it is important, I feel, that we acknowledge the intent of this was never to harm indigenous people. It was to enforce child-protection laws, which mandated that no child, regardless of racial background, should be forced to live in substandard conditions. These conditions were rife in indigenous communities at the time, and they still are – witness the case of the teenage girl gang-raped at the age of 7; the only reason this even made the news is because the prosecutor decided to let the perpetrators go.
If non-indigenous children were treated in such fashion, the parents would certainly lose their children. It happens all the time – that’s why we have organisations such as the Department of Child Safety. For us to tolerate in indigenous communities what we would not tolerate in mainstream society is not “respect for their culture” – it’s a revolting acknowledgement that indigenous Australians are not ready to partake in mainstream society.
It is wrong that our governments had to take the children away. It is vastly more wrong that we permitted, and continue to permit, these conditions. Rampant abuse of children has created and perpetuates a cycle of dependence in indigenous communities, and this cycle must be broken somehow. It is our failure to do this, or even to accept a need to do this, that we should apologise for. It is the failure of indigenous Australians to break out of this cycle by themselves that makes the apology somewhat pointless.
(All that said, I’m not in favour of the so-called intervention policies of the last days of the Howard government. We do not need to create special laws to deal with the situation; we need to enforce the ones we have, along with creative programs to achieve results by building communities up instead of tearing them apart)