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Tony Jones talks to the Opposition's Indigeno -

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TONY JONES: With me now is the Opposition's Indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott. Tony Abbott,
thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: Now, you've accepted the Government's motion for the apology lock, stock and barrel,
have you?

TONY ABBOTT: Yes. If we were drafting it we wouldn't have used precisely these words but we know
what the Government wants to do. We think that there is a case for an apology and so we're going to
support it.

TONY JONES: And accept these words?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, as I said, we were given the words very late in the piece, on a more or less
take it or leave it basis and we are not going to ruin the day by quibbling over the terminology.
But plainly if we were drafting it, it would have been somewhat different.

TONY JONES: There are as you know, and you've just seen some evidence of it, there are some
tremendous public emotions swirling around this event and expectations. Have you concluded it would
be just too mean-spirited and not to mention too politically dangerous to go against this?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, we're the Opposition, we're not the Government. The Government is determined to
do this, the Government has chosen the words, the Government thinks that the risks of compensation
claims and so on are manageable. And we think, given the Government's determination to go ahead,
that the most good that can be gained from this will be gained if we support it.

TONY JONES: Let me get this straight then. Do you now accept that "The laws and policies of
successive parliaments and governments have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on the
stolen generations"?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, again, that's not the precise wording that there would be if this was drafted by

TONY JONES: You're voting for it though, do you accept these words and the meaning behind them?

TONY ABBOTT: We are prepared to support a formal national apology because things were done in the
past that shouldn't have been done. People should have known back then that some of the things that
were done in the past should not have happened. But this is a complex picture, Tony, and I would
suggest that the article that Noel Pearson published in today's Australian is a very good antidote
to some of the more exuberant statements that are currently coming out of Canberra.

TONY JONES: But you accept that line about the laws and policies of successive parliaments and

TONY ABBOTT: Bad things were done. Bad things were done. They shouldn't have been done. Good things
were done as well and I think it's important to keep a proper perspective on all of this.

TONY JONES: What are you and the Opposition precisely saying sorry for?

TONY ABBOTT: We think that it is right that Australia should apologise. The Parliament should
apologise for the taking away from their families of Indigenous children without good reason.

TONY JONES: Do you agree that there needs to be an apology for the policy of assimilation that led
to children being removed from black mothers simply because of their race if the women had white

TONY ABBOTT: The reason why that policy...

TONY JONES: If the children had a white father, obviously.

TONY ABBOTT: The reason why that policy was in place was because many of these children were
neglected and certainly if you go back far enough, it seems that part-Aboriginal kids had no real
role in traditional Aboriginal society and were, in many cases, horribly neglected. Now some of
those kids were rescued by the policy of removal. Other kids who were removed were seriously
damaged and they shouldn't have been removed and it's the kind of judgment of situations which
seems to have been lacking in the policies of the past and that's why we should apologise.

TONY JONES: Particularly in assimilation because I asked this same question to your Deputy Leader
Julie Bishop last week. She simply said yes, that's the particular policy that has given rise to
most of this, the assimilation policy where half-caste children were taken away from their mothers.
I mean is that the Opposition position, her personal position, is it your position?

TONY ABBOTT: Well plainly people should not have been taken away simply because they were part
Aboriginal. That shouldn't have happened.

TONY JONES: So assimilation was wrong in that sense? The policy of assimilation? We're revisiting
something now that was a fundamental issue during the culture wars.

TONY ABBOTT: Yes, there is nothing wrong with the idea of enabling, empowering people, Indigenous
people, to operate successfully in the wider Australian community - what Noel Pearson has referred
to as cultural interoperability, as it were. People to be fully Aboriginal, but fully Australian.
To be at home in the bush and in the boardroom. I mean that's a perfectly good policy and I fully
support it.

TONY JONES: This must be especially hard for senior members of the previous government. Are you
confident that all your colleagues in the Coalition are going to first of all be there and vote for
this motion, not boycott it and certainly not vote against it?

TONY ABBOTT: I can't absolutely guarantee that every single Member of Parliament is going to be
present, just as Kevin Rudd can't guarantee that people's personal circumstances tomorrow might
prevent them from being in the Parliament. But certainly we support the apology and almost to a man
and a woman the Coalition will be there.

TONY JONES: You wouldn't countenance a conscience vote on this?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, no. The short answer is no. It is the Coalition's policy to support an apology.

TONY JONES: Tell me, have you come on a sort of personal journey on this issue in the same way that
Brendan Nelson appears to have. Because only in December your Leader said he wouldn't support a
formal apology for the actions of past generations.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, I think all of us are journeying, to use that phrase, Tony, and the place that
we have arrived at is that we think all things considered it will help if there is a national
apology. But I want to make this point - this apology tomorrow is not the end of things and one of
the worries that I had reading the wording is this suggestion that we've now got all that nasty
stuff behind us. The fact of the matter is there is an enormous problem in Indigenous Australia
which is not going to be solved by this apology. It might, over time, be solved by policies like
those of the Northern Territory intervention and if the Rudd Government thinks for a second that
this apology is going to allow it to water down or dilute or walk away from the intervention, well
I think it's betraying Aboriginal people as well as betraying its own pre-election commitments.

TONY JONES: On the journey that you were talking about, you've come a long way, a very long way
indeed as a party from John Howard's position on this. You wrote today that this vote by the
Liberal Party is not a repudiation of John Howard but it is, in a sense, turning your back on his
strongest views about this issue.

TONY ABBOTT: But John Howard himself, as his speech to the Sydney Institute just before the
election made clear, has been on a personal journey as well and while he thought that a that the
time for a formal apology had past, he was proposing a constitutional referendum to recognise
Indigenous people further in the constitution. Now, you know, this is a man of compassion who has
done more for Indigenous people than any other prime minister.

TONY JONES: Yet he was the man who stood primarily against saying the word 'sorry'. You are as a
party now going to say the word sorry. Did you talk to him about this?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I've had lots of discussions with John Howard over the years.

TONY JONES: I'm talking about this issue and prior coming to the conclusion that you actually had
to say sorry.

TONY ABBOTT: I've had all sorts of conversations with John over the years.

TONY JONES: Recently about this?

TONY ABBOTT: Yes, including recently. But I don't think that there is anyone in our history who has
done more in practical terms for Indigenous people and by saying sorry tomorrow I think we will be
much better placed to defend John Howard's real and continuing legacy of which the Northern
Territory intervention is by far the most significant.

TONY JONES: I've just got to ask you very briefly, if you've spoken to him about this, is he
relaxed and comfortable about you doing this as a party?

TONY ABBOTT: I'm not going to put words into his mouth, he can speak for himself if he chooses too.

TONY JONES: But he's not choosing to, that's the point.

TONY ABBOTT: But the point is this - John Howard did more for Indigenous people in practical terms
more than any Prime Minister and he himself was on a journey as any sensible reading of his Sydney
Institute speech would make clear.

TONY JONES: You mentioned Noel Pearson before and the article he wrote today and the fundamental
point in that article is that the Stolen Generation will never get over this without compensation.
People will go to their graves because they're not being compensated. They will go to their graves
still devastated, the apology simply won't be enough.

TONY ABBOTT: And this is an issue that Kevin Rudd does need to address. This is, in the end, the
Government's policy. It's the Government's motion and the compensation question is something that
the Government has got to address. And I thought Noel Pearson made a very interesting observation.
Who is more sincere, the person who says I'm not apologising and there won't be compensation or the
person who says I am apologising but there won't be any compensation. Now that was the point that
Pearson made and it's one of the reasons why perhaps the deep reason why he feels so ambivalent
about what's going to happen in Canberra tomorrow.

TONY JONES: You support a national compensation scheme as an Opposition?

TONY ABBOTT: I'm not saying that, I'm definitely not saying that. As far as I am concerned, and I
understand as far as the Opposition is concerned, this apology tomorrow creates no new rights or
entitlements. We are guaranteed that by the Prime Minister, who says he has legal advice to this
effect, and I think it would help if that legal advice was published.

TONY JONES: I'll just make the point here on a personal note that you once said in court if you
don't pay you're not really sorry.

TONY ABBOTT: Well that's an issue for the Government.

TONY JONES: It is an issue for your views on this that's why I raised it with you. You said in
court if you don't pay you're not really sorry. I mean is that a matter of principle you stand by,
or is it something that's relevant for you and Peter Costello in a defamation case and for no one

TONY ABBOTT: Well Tony this is a point that you should be raising with Kevin Rudd. I mean I think
it's very clear that if the Coalition were in government things would be different. But it's Kevin
Rudd who is the Prime Minister, the buck stops with him. He is both apologising and promising that
there will be no compensation so any tension in this area ought to be put to him.

TONY JONES: Tony Abbott, no doubt that will happen at some point in the future. Sorry to dredge out
the past but we do have to make a point. We thank you for coming in and joining us tonight.

TONY ABBOTT: Thanks, Tony.