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Tony Jones talks to historian Professor Henry -

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TONY JONES: Well joining us now is Professor Henry Reynolds, who has written extensively about the
often bloody conflicts between black and white Australians, particularly in the early years of
settlement. He is currently at the University of Tasmania. And Gerard Henderson, executive director
of the Sydney Institute, and the author of several books on the Liberal Party of Australia.

Thanks to both of you for being there.

If I can start with you if I can, Henry Reynolds, when Kevin Rudd talked about this "stony,
stubborn and deafening silence from Parliament" over the past 10 years, he is laying the blame with
John Howard and the culture wars, isn't he?

HENRY REYNOLDS, HISTORIAN: I think that was pretty clear. It was obviously a reference to John
Howard and he was clearly marking out the clear difference between the previous government and his
own new Government.

TONY JONES: So, what do you think then Brendan Nelson was doing? Because it appeared that he was
actually picking up some of the old themes of the Howard years, particularly those about the black
armband view of politics and, as a result of course, we saw people turning their backs on him.

HENRY REYNOLDS: Yes, I think he obviously faced a difficult situation. He wanted to be seen, to be
part of the great occasion, but at the same time he felt he had to appeal to a conservative
audience out and beyond those in Canberra. He was doing what my old friend Joh Bjelke-Petersen once
called trying to walk on both sides of a barbed wire fence.

TONY JONES: Gerard Henderson, do you agree with that and in the view of what's happened, did
Brendan Nelson make a serious mistake today with the tone and content of his speech?

GERARD HENDERSON, AUTHOR: Tony, I am having some trouble hearing you and I now have echo, but I
will do my best.

TONY JONES: We will try to resolve that. What I was actually saying, if you heard what Henry
Reynolds said, do you think that Brendan Nelson made a serious mistake today with the tone and the
content of his speech?

GERARD HENDERSON: I think Brendan Nelson, I've got feedback from you and myself. It's very
difficult but I'll do best, I think Brendan Nelson made a mistake referring to sexual crime in an
address of this kind. But in other matters what he said was accurate to a large extent and I think
he paid due regard to those people, many of them Christian workers, who gave up their lives to help
Aborigines and who thought they were doing well and on many accounts did do well. So, I wouldn't
have written the kind of speech that he gave. I think he went too far, but I think the criticism is
a bit over the top too.

TONY JONES: The images, though, immediately reminded people, Gerard Henderson, of that famous
reconciliation conference in Melbourne in 1997, where Indigenous people turned their backs on John
Howard, at the time he was railing against symbolism. Once again we have a similar situation
occurring.

GERARD HENDERSON: That's all true and we saw that tonight. I am sorry, I still have this feedback,
but I'll go on. That was true and we saw that tonight, but what I am interested in, in a sense, is
what wasn't said today. For example, there is no reference to genocide, which was a central part of
Ronald Wilson's report, Bringing them Home. And there is no reference to murder, as in we committed
the murders, which was a central part of Paul Keating's address at Redfern in 1992. So I think what
you see here is some concessions on the Government's side of the debate to moderate the language
and I think that Kevin Rudd has done well in doing that.

So I think there have been some changes in the debate and, whilst I think Brendan Nelson's speech
was unwise in part, some of which he said was true. If you go back and look at the history of the
last 40 years, large numbers of the problems were caused by people with goodwill. Going back to the
1965 Aboriginal stockman's case, where the arbitration Commission put Aboriginal workers on wage
levels, knowing that they couldn't sustain them and that that would lead to unemployment, it was
all done with the best will in the world, but it was a disastrous policy, and continuing through to
the welfare policies of the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating governments. So it makes sense at
some stage to say this, but there are some things that probably shouldn't be said.

TONY JONES: Let me just, Gerard Henderson, hopefully you can hear us more clearly now and hopefully
we're resolving that problem.

GERARD HENDERSON: No, I can't.

TONY JONES: Let me just ask you one more question on that score. Do you think Brendan Nelson has
done any political damage to himself within the ranks of his own party today, or has he in fact
appeased sections of his party with making the sort of speech that he made?

GERARD HENDERSON: The Liberal Party is divided on this issue. There's no secret about that. I think
today will come and go, it's an important day, but tomorrow the problems remain the same, as they
were yesterday and one speech I don't really think is going to be very crucial.

TONY JONES: Henry Reynolds, I dare say you can at least hear what is being said by Gerard Henderson
there. What do you make of the Rudd speech in particular?

HENRY REYNOLDS: I think it was a far better speech than I was expecting. I think it was a very
moving speech. I think all sorts of people were deeply moved by it and indeed, behind the speech
was clearly a quite different interpretation of Australia's history than was favoured during the
John Howard era and to that extent I think it does represent a very dramatic change. And I think
the reaction of so many people all over Australia indicated just how much he had touched the
nation. And I think that was the most amazing thing about it. It wasn't so much what happened
within the Parliament House in Canberra, it was this extraordinary national experience that was
felt all over the country.

TONY JONES: Now, Henry Reynolds, it was Geoffrey Blaney who coined the phrase originally black
armband history. You were one of his main targets. What effect do you think Kevin Rudd's speech
will have and the apology will have and the manner in which he expressed it will have on the
culture wars?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, I, it is clearly part of that conflict. The academic debate has never been
separated from the political debate and quite obviously the new government is adopting a
radically-different interpretation of what has happened in the past and there's no doubt that that
will affect the way Australians generally think about the past, even though there will be many
people who will oppose, continue to oppose strongly, the views that were implicit in the Prime
Minister's statement.

TONY JONES: Gerard Henderson, let me bring you in here. You know it was Paul Keating who said
change the Government and you change the country. There is a sense in which Kevin Rudd seems to
have proven that true today, isn't there?

GERARD HENDERSON: Well, I am not sure the country has been changed. Look, it was a good speech by
the Prime Minister and it wasn't surprising that he did it. He said he was going to do it and he
did it. It was a good speech by the Prime Minister but it doesn't necessarily change the country.
If you look at the kind of matters Noel Pearson was writing about in The Australian a couple of
days ago, he made the point that some of the people in the separated generation went there in
chains and some went there with one or more parents and he made the point that the problems of
welfare, dependency, remain after an apology. I don't have a problem with an apology. I am pleased
it's out of the way.

But realistically, a lot of the problems faced by Aborigines in Australia today have been caused by
well-meaning policies of well-meaning people, predominantly white people, in governments in
Canberra and in Queensland and the Northern Territory and in Western Australia. And those problems
remain and I am with people like Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson who, whilst they're not against an
apology as I understand it, recognise that the problems that Aborigines face in their day-to-day
lives won't be resolved by this. And I think Kevin Rudd understands that as well. So, I'm not
against people getting excited on a day like today and it's always nice to have a day like today,
but tomorrow comes and it doesn't change anything.

TONY JONES: Henry Reynolds, it was significant in a way that Noel Pearson was not at this event. In
a way he has been co-opted by the previous Government or had seriously and heavily advised the
previous government on the Northern Territory intervention. His article in the article in The
Australian also told of his fear of the idea of black victimhood. I wonder what your thoughts are
on his views.

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, I don't agree with a lot that Noel Pearson says. I think he's admirable in
many ways that he's gone back to his community when he could have had a stellar career in the city.
But there's much about his interpretation of the past and there's much about Gerard's
interpretation that I don't agree with. I don't agree for one moment that the main problem is
well-meaning but mistaken policies. I think a great deal of the problem has been neglect and
indifference.

GERARD HENDERSON: If I could just make a point, the last 40 years haven't been great for
Aborigines. So if the well-meaning policies of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser and Paul Keating
and Bob Hawke had worked we wouldn't have the problem we had today and you could say the same of
Liberal and the Labor State Governments in the various states. And I know a lot of it is due to
well-meaning people and I've written about in the past, the Aboriginal stockman's case of 1965,
where the unions and the governments knew that if Aboriginal wages were increased it would lead to
unemployment and dispossession of cattle stations where many of them had lived for generations. The
missionaries went before the tribunal and warned what would happen. Everybody knew what would
happen and nobody cared because the people in control thought this was the right thing do. Now, it
led to dispossession, it led to unemployment, that contributed to alcohol abuse and later drug
abuse. It was an absolutely disastrous policy done with the best intention of people like Henry
Reynolds, very nice people, well-intentioned people but policies like these have been disastrous.
If you go up to Noel Pearson's country and you look around and you can see what the problems are.
Now, it's 40 years we've had these problems for and we've had these solutions for, and they haven't
worked.

TONY JONES: Henry Reynolds...

GERARD HENDERSON: If they had worked we wouldn't be discussing this today. I am all for an apology,
that's fine, but let's not kid ourselves that symbolic gestures of that kind, welcome as they are
and it's great to see people like Jackie Huggins welcoming it and that was terrific to see that.
But she knows as I know and you know and Henry knows, it doesn't solve the problem.

TONY JONES: We're clearly having quite serious difficulties with actually communicating between the
three of you tonight. I want to go back to Henry Reynolds because it seems to me that the idea of
the culture wars having a high-level patron like John Howard in the previous government meant that
one side of that argument was exemplified, and that's the side that I think Gerard Henderson is
taking tonight. Has that fundamentally changed and will that fundamentally change now that Kevin
Rudd, using the bully pulpit of the prime ministership, has actually turned around now and said
these policies of removal were state-sanctioned policies?

HENRY REYNOLDS: Well, I don't think anyone can doubt that and nor can anyone doubt that the
policies for much of the time we're talking about weren't well-intentioned in the obvious sense.
They were designed to absorb and assimilate the Aboriginal people. And the people who put those
policies into practice were open and frank about their objectives. They wanted to make the
Aborigines disappear.

Now, if that is well-meaning, it certainly was seen at the time to be in the national interest to
do that, but that doesn't mean that we should now look back and say they were well-meaning. The
idea was that the Aborigines were a minority, it was bad to have a minority in a nation and the
minority should be absorbed. That was the policy, that was the objective, the objective was
absorption and assimilation. That has been the fundamental policy of the Howard Government over the
last 11 years and indeed the policy that I imagine Gerard Henderson favours.

TONY JONES: Okay, and I final quick comment...

GERARD HENDERSON: If I could just one make point. The people who decided it was a good idea to
dramatically increase Aborigine wages in 1965 were not trying to get rid of Aborigines. They were
trying to give them more money. It was a very well-meaning policy. It proved to be an absolute
disaster and people like Noel Pearson and people who live in these parts of Australia have
understood that through their families and own experiences.

Now, I don't think this has got anything to do with the culture wars. To a large extent the culture
wars are an invention of the left in objection to other people contesting their territory. I don't
think Kevin Rudd's engaged in a culture war, I think John Howard has made a number of errors as he
conceded at his speech at the Sydney Institute, but he did do a lot to actually help Aborigines. I
don't think this has anything to do with the culture wars.

I think there are different approaches to policy by Kevin Rudd and John Howard and others who are
all very well meaning and have come to different answers as to how it's resolved. We've seen Kevin
Rudd's approach today but he acknowledges it has to be followed up with policy and we will look to
see how the policy goes. It's got to be judged over five or 10 years. But I think it's diminishing
the debate a bit saying this has to do with a few academics and a few universities talking to one
another about what they consider to be the culture wars.

TONY JONES: Alright, we have to leave it there. We have some serious problems with the sound.
Thanks to both of you for joining with us and putting up with those difficulties.