Monday, January 28, 2008

Belshaw's position on the stolen generation

I am bit chary at the moment about talking on indigenous issues. However, I have done a fair bit of thinking on the issue of the stolen generation and have slowly worked my way through to a personal conclusion.

First, the comments that follow link just to issues associated with the stolen generation. Were these to become involved with other issues, then I would need to judge in the context of those issues.

At a past point I did a fair bit of work on the history of child welfare in NSW. When the stolen generation issue first came up, I wanted to know what the distinctive features were as compared to other elements of the treatment at the same time.

I think that the evidence is conclusive that indigenous, especially mixed race, children were treated differently.

This does not mean that their treatment whether in foster homes or institutional care was different from that experienced by other children. In many cases it was not. But the fact that their entry into the system was based in part on different criteria that led to different treatment as a group makes them different.

I do not feel in any way guilty at a personal level about the treatment afforded the stolen generation since I had no influence or control over the matter. However, I do regard it as perfectly appropriate for a Government, in this case the Federal Government, to apologise for past injustices carried out by its predecessors. Here there is a direct institutional link. This holds in the case of Germany and the Jews, or Japan and Nanking.

I make a clear distinction in my mind between past and current events.

History is littered with injustice. However, in the case of the stolen generation we are not dealing just with a past event, but with an event whose victims are alive today, are with us. This issue is not just a matter of history, but of current politics and policy.

To the degree that people now living in the Australian community have been affected by Government injustice, then they deserve compensation linked in some direct way to the injustice. This is what any Australian would expect.

I see enormous problems in compensating on an individual basis. For that reason I reject this, although my position here is not categorical. I prefer a collective compensation, one that is sufficiently large to have symbolic and practical value.

My proposal is that the Government should establish an Indigenous Education Endowment Fund with a starting capital somewhere between one and two billion dollars. The income stream would then provide between $300 and $800 for every indigenous child in the country.

I am not proposing that every child should receive a scholarship from the fund. Rather, grants should be merit based.

I recognise that some Australians would see this as positive discrimination. It is not, although some of the effects may be the same. It is a redress of past wrongs.

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