Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Apology to the forgotten Australians

Ramblings was meant to be yesterday's post on this blog. I posted it to Management Perspectives by accident because I still had Live Writer set to Management Perspectives and decided to let it stand there.

I almost removed the post entirely because it lacks balance and might in fact upset those who were affected , but let it stand because it does bear upon my current argument on that post. For the benefit of non-Australian readers, the start of the story in today's Sydney Morning Herald sets a context:

THEY were called the ''forgotten Australians''.

But the more than half a million state wards, foster children and former child migrants were renamed the ''remembered Australians'' yesterday by Kevin Rudd, as he apologised on behalf of the nation for the abuse and neglect they suffered in church and state care.

Mr Rudd and the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, fought back tears as they delivered the historic apology in the Great Hall of Parliament House.

The issue itself is quite complicated and emotional, mixing together a whole variety of things. If you like and to put it in the context of my current argument on Management Perspectives, we are dealing with 500,000 unforeseen side-effects of previous policies.

There are several things that I struggle with in the context of this apology.

One is the way that so many things have been mixed together under a simple label, the forgotten Australians. The second is the the way this apology represents another slash at the umbilical cord connecting us with our own past. In focusing on the evils without recognising both the good and the context, we actually discredit the total.

As I noted in my post, the apology took place on the same day that an Aboriginal child was brought before the courts for receiving a chocolate frog. It took place in the context of recurring problems and injustices in Australia's current child welfare systems, problems that I have written about at some length.

To my mind, one of the marks of a good society is a willingness to recognise and address past wrongs. Yet we also have to be very careful in the way we do this if we are to avoid further poison.

In the future, historians will pick over this apology and the earlier one to the stolen generations. Looking at it from the perspective of their own times, they will ask what it meant in the context of the time. I wonder what they will conclude?


Legal Eagle said...

Isn't it interesting that there isn't the same furore about apologising to "forgotten Australians" as there was about the "Stolen Generation"?

Jim Belshaw said...

I agree, LE, although I don't think that it's quite as clear cut as might appear.

The discussions over the stolen generation did highlight the fact that other groups had suffered injustice. Then, once you have made one apology, I guess the second becomes easier, in this case almost inevitable.