Australia will issue its first formal apology for past mistreatment to the country's indigenous people Feb. 13, a senior minister said Wednesday.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the apology to Australia's so-called "stolen generation" of Aborigines would be the first item of business for the new Labour-dominated Parliament.
"The apology will be made on behalf of the Australian government and does not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people," Macklin said in a statement.[...]
An apology would mark a significant milestone in a decade-long debate about how best to acknowledge Aborigines who were affected by a string of 20th century policies that separated mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their families - frequently referred to as Australia's stolen generation.
From 1910 until the 1970s, around 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative.
A national inquiry into stolen generation held in 1997 found many children taken from their families suffered long-term psychological effects stemming from the loss of family and culture.
The inquiry recommended state and federal authorities apologize and pay compensation to those who were removed from their families. But former prime minister John Howard steadfastly refused to do either.
I discussed Howard's refusal in chapter 8 of The Multiculturalism of Fear
A state that can act in its own name, a state that has a corporate existence, can commit wrongs in its own name—and can legitimately apologize in its own name. This is not even only true of states. The Catholic Church—which both legally and as a matter of its own self-understanding has a corporate, institutional existence and is not merely the sum of its faithful at any moment—has apologized for some of its failures during the Holocaust. That this means some persons who hold church offices today, and who were not yet born at the time of the Holocaust, have apologized for the actions of others long dead, is neither a conceptual nor a moral problem. There would have been a problem had Catholic prelates apologized in their capacities as natural persons for the actions of other natural persons; but this is not what they did. And it is not what state officials do when they properly apologize for past actions of the state, either. Australian Prime Minister Howard thus got matters precisely backward when he resisted an official apology to the ‘stolen generation’ of Aboriginal children but issued a personal statement of regret. That personal statement could be no more than the expression of sorrow of an onlooker to a tragedy; Howard had no hand in the policy. It was the Australian state, not the person of the head of government, that owed (and still owes) an apology.
I'm pleased not only by the fact that an apology is forthcoming but by the symbolism of its being the first act of the new Labor-majority Parliament. Good on them, as one might say.