Today is the third anniversary Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s “Sorry Speech”, a landmark occasion in Australian history, which opened like this;
That today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”
This was a turning point in the long road of reconciliation, it had been a bumpy road with the previous Prime Minister, John Howard arguing that an apology was inappropriate even after the release of the Bringing them Home Report which exposed the horror of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people had been subjected to.
In The Politics of Suffering by Peter Sutton, he describes this type of event as one that “offers conjoint catharsis, an authorised shedding of guilt, possibly a sanctioned regaining of innocence”. However, Sutton expresses scepticism about “collective Reconciliation” and argues that the process should be a “personal and interpersonal journey…..dealt with by Australians as individuals”. I would broaden this to include those who continue to benefit from the wrongs of the past, but otherwise I agree.
Kevin Rudd’s Sorry Speech is extremely important as an acknowledgement of the past and the impact of those events on Australia today. Rudd was the leader of the country therefore it is right that he should play such a prominent role in the Reconciliation process. However, Reconciliation will not start and finish with leaders, it starts and finishes with you and me. We must be honest with ourselves and ask how much do we owe for our current lifestyle, to those who suffered so we can live this way? If we come to the conclusion that we are in debt, we need to work towards repaying that debt, person by person.