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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 459


Dr JENSEN (11:37 AM) —I have profound difficulties with the idea of an apology to the so-called stolen generation. Before I start, I would like to voice my dismay at the way in which the Prime Minister attempted to politicise this issue. Labor has been calling for an apology for months, and the Labor government has been in power for over two months, and yet it could only release the wording of this much vaunted apology to the opposition and the Australian people at 5.43 on the evening prior to the apology. Is that because, despite its assertions, it really does not care that much and only thought of it at the last minute? Or is it that it is playing this as wedge politics? Or is it that it had legal advice that this will make the Commonwealth liable for compensation and it did not want it to be made clear to either the opposition or the Australian people? Indeed, if it was hoping for bipartisan support, why did it not give the opposition access to the legal advice? This clearly indicates that, on the part of the Labor government, there was no goodwill associated with this issue.

One of the first things I would like to note is that the majority of my constituents do not support this apology, perhaps for reasons the government is not prepared to acknowledge or consider, but it is a fact that my constituents reflect the majority view that, at this time, it is not the right thing to do. As a representative of my electorate, it is obviously critical that I represent their views. A survey carried out by a Channel 7 news poll in Perth yesterday asked the question, ‘Do you agree with the government apology?’ More than 13,000 responded and 90 per cent voted that they did not support the apology.

There are numerous reasons why I have decided not to support the apology. It is very important that I put these views forward so that I am not misrepresented. First, to the specifics of precisely who this apology is being made to, many in the community seem to believe that the apology is to the Aboriginals in general or to be made for invading Australia in the first place. The fact is that the apology is made to Aboriginals who are of the so-called stolen generation. The stolen generation relates to people of Aboriginal descent who were removed from their parents based on their Aboriginality. In the case of the Commonwealth government, responsibility for these policies was only in the territories. With regard to the Northern Territory, there was a court case, Cubillo v Commonwealth, that examined these issues in great detail.

Cubillo v Commonwealth found that, specifically with regard to the Northern Territory, there never was a policy of removing Aboriginal children for race reasons. This result was upheld on appeal. Justice O’Loughlin found no policy of systematic forced removal. Where forced removal occurred, the government was motivated by ‘the twin forces of a sense of responsibility for the care of children and concern for their welfare as potentially unwelcome members of the Aboriginal community’. In relation to the breeding out allegations, O’Loughlin said ‘there is much that might be said about the presentation of such an allegation in the light of the total absence of evidence to support it’. So it would appear that, according to the courts, there never was a stolen generation in the Northern Territory. There certainly were children removed, but it was for reasons other than race. As such, with regard to the specifics of whom the policy is addressed to, there is actually not an apology to be made by the federal government.

What is tragic is that the issue of an apology is made out to be a huge step in the reconciliation process—one that will make a huge difference on its own. The problem with this argument is that one merely has to look at what has happened in my state of WA to see just how meaningless an apology is. In WA, the state government was responsible for its own apology. Although an apology was delivered by the state, in the parliament, in 2001, Aboriginal life expectancy in that state has decreased since that time. This is a travesty and demonstrates that mere rhetoric, for which Labor is renowned, is no substitute for policy designed to actually address the problem.

There is something very interesting in the PM’s record on this. He was the mandarin—an appropriate term here, I think—in charge of the Queensland bureaucracy during the Goss Labor government. What policies came out at that period on the plight of the Aboriginal people? Let us give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has seen the light subsequent to becoming the member for Griffith and coming to this place. I searched ParlInfo for Rudd’s speeches in Hansard. Under the search term ‘Aboriginal’ I got two hits—one speech was about a local primary school and the other was about Howard’s Aboriginal initiative last year, which he supported. For ‘Aboriginals’ I got zero hits, for ‘ATSIC’ I got zero hits and for ‘native welfare’ I got zero hits. So much for his genuine concern at the plight of the Aboriginal people of Australia. It would seem that, in all his time in this place, it is only in the past few months that he has discovered their plight.

In my perception, we have got our priorities wrong. Samuel Johnson said, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Unfortunately, this is the case here. For the last 40 years we have done all the wrong things for all the right reasons. We have given generously financially with scant regard for the effect of sit-down money on communities where there is no responsibility or accountability for the welfare. This is completely degrading, and I can only imagine the loss of self-esteem this engenders. Is this doing the right thing? I do not think so. Reverse racism is still racism, and there is something extremely paternalistic in handing out money in situations where other Australians would not qualify. What is that saying to the Aboriginal community—that they are not up to being responsible for themselves, so the government will look after them as if they are children? How can we continue supporting communities that are inherently unviable? Communities of around 20 or so people cannot be economically viable, and in supporting these unviable communities we condemn their inhabitants to a life of welfare dependency. This can never be acceptable.

Something that worries me is that at present you have social workers who are loath to remove Aboriginal children who are neglected or abused, because they are concerned with potential repercussions that might apply with removing these children. In fact, this extends further into Aboriginal communities. Dr Stephanie Jarrett, visiting research fellow, who did her PhD thesis on the pathology of violence inside one Aboriginal community, stated:

Lawyers use cultural rights to reduce penalties for domestic violence … Where does this leave Aboriginal women? Domestic violence is the major source of Australia’s internal refugees.

I apologise for the awful truths that are often buried under mountains of reports, excuses and bureaucratic activity. How can a mere apology even scratch the surface of the appalling figures that we have in terms of Aboriginal welfare?

The Australian Medical Association reported on the alarming rates of STD infection in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Its report states:

In the six months to June this year, 41 children aged under 10 presented with gonorrhoea, 41 with chlamydia, five with syphilis and 40 with trichomoniasis.

Among them, one child under four was diagnosed with gonorrhoea and another in the same age bracket with chlamydia.

It concludes:

The Aboriginal population accounted for 66 per cent of all chlamydia cases and 92 per cent of syphilis cases within the six-month period.

That begs the question: if this were happening to white children, what would society expect from the law in dealing with these perpetrators? Once again, how woefully inadequate is the word ‘sorry’.

Consider in your hearts the truly indescribable suffering of a young Aurukun girl, 10 years old, who was raped by a group of juveniles. The attack left her with gonorrhoea. As Andrew Bolt wrote:

So why this monstrous leniency for the pack rape of an Aboriginal girl?

Because, said the judge in sentencing the juvenile rapists, “I accept that the girl ... probably agreed to have sex with all of you”.

A 10-year-old? What makes the story even more indefensible is that, after the first attack, she was moved to safety to a family in Cairns and yet was forced to return to Aurukun because a social worker believed that it was defensible on the grounds of her cultural, emotional and spiritual identity. This is the sort of warped logic that has resulted in so much of the trauma and probably irreparable damage done to so many children.

What must be done in order to give these communities a future and the young people hope? Stop trying to attain the moral high ground by simply throwing more and more money into programs that have palpably and comprehensively failed. Take the success stories and start reproducing them around the country, beginning with actions that will deliver the most basic need for all of these people: a safe place to live and then the other basics of life, such as a healthy environment, housing and a good education.

Late last year, the Western Australian state government tried its utmost to prevent the release of a report into its dysfunctional Department of Indigenous Affairs. For whatever reason—lack of resources or policy based on ideology instead of sensitive practicality—this department failed the very people it was meant to serve. How real or sincere was the apology from that government, given the evidence of its actions? Despite the Prime Minister talking about the righting of wrongs of the past, he appears to be ignorant of the fact that it is impossible to right wrongs of the past. It is only possible to improve the future and learn from mistakes of the past.

Now I come to something that I am very sorry about. I am sorry that this parliament has lost a true champion of the Aboriginal people. Mal Brough was the previous minister for Indigenous affairs; he was someone determined to really make a difference to the Aboriginal people. He did not make a fuss about his own Aboriginal heritage but set about to try to break the cycle of poverty, despair, abuse and hopelessness. I sincerely hope that the new minister is as committed and as fearless as Mal Brough was to ensure that the conditions many Aboriginal communities find themselves in today are eliminated and consigned to the dustbin of history.

In conclusion, I would like to apologise to the Aboriginal people that, over the past 40 years, we have not initiated policies that have addressed the root causes of your people’s problems. I apologise for the terrible situation some of your children find themselves in, as we have not had the courage—until the Northern Territory intervention—to systemically address the problem. I am sorry that we have allowed you to live in non-viable communities, pretending that by giving you welfare we were solving the problem. I am sorry that, despite apologies given by the states that were supposed to start actions that would genuinely help Aboriginal problems, Aboriginal life expectancy and health outcomes are not improving. I worry that many in Australia will now think that the job is done, whereas the job has not even started.

My hope for the future is to see Aboriginal society fully participating in Australian society, sharing with all Australians and reaping the benefits of cooperation and participation while retaining its own very distinct culture and heritage, as with so many other communities within Australia. I will push for policies that are not paternalistic and demeaning but instead are central to those who are struggling to help themselves. I will fight to ensure that children live in conditions of safety where they can dream and aspire to whatever they desire. I want an Aboriginal society that sees limitless horizons, not the short-sighted view of squalid communities which crush the human spirit. That is what I will fight for. That is my pledge.