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Opposition Leader discusses apology to Stolen Generation.

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The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP

Leader of the Opposition

Mon, 11th February 2008




Morning to you?


Oh good morning Steve and very well said in your introduction.


You met with Kevin Rudd, breakfast last week, I don’t expect you to tell me about a private conversation, but did he

convince you this is the right thing to do or didn’t you need any convincing?


Well I’m convinced myself it’s the right thing to do. As I’ve expressed Steve over the last couple of months I think it’s fair

to say that all of us, to varying degrees are ambivalent about aspects of this, but my very strong view is that we do need

to say sorry, to apologise for the things that were done in the past but to also to recognise that in many cases they were

done with very good intentions and we’ve also….in fact I spent the weekend writing my speech, by the way, and in part I

make the observation that for many Australians wanting an apology, this issue of the forcibly separated generations of

aboriginal children is emblematic, if you like, of the relationship between our two different cultures and races over 220

years. But the comments that you’ve just made are absolutely spot on.

In fact I’d be very interested to know whether on the first day of the parliament sitting this time next year, that we have all

of these screens, and all of this interest, and people being flown in from some of these remote communities, like

Kowanyama and Aurukun and Docker River and various places, to actually get a report on what progress commonwealth

and state governments have made in the 12 months that have gone.


Well that seems to me not to be linked, there doesn’t seem to be any move here to link what’s going to be said

Wednesday to improvement in those places, the two seem to be somehow separated?


Well they do and it’s interesting that Mr Rudd has said that we need to apparently say sorry before we can actually deal

with these very practical measures and as if in someway the two are intimately linked. Over 15 years of visiting remote

aboriginal communities I have never had an aboriginal person say to me, until the Commonwealth of Australia apologises

I can’t get on with. Now that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. But also I don’t see that there is a direct link between

apology and as you quite eloquently describe the fact as you and I are speaking an aboriginal baby born today has only

a third the chance of seeing the age of 65 that your kids and mine will. We’re living in a country where 90,000 aboriginal

people living in remote communities where sexual abuse and neglect of children, physical violence against women, the

ravages of alcohol, educational underperformance and all of those things and many more continue.

And the most significant thing that’s been done in aboriginal affairs, I think in the last 35 years, was the intervention in the

Northern Territory last year, which followed a study which found in every one of 45 communities surveyed in every

community there was sexual abuse of children amongst many other things.


Well that intervention’s more meaningful than a speech?


Well it is. Look I don’t want to underestimate the importance to those people who were removed and their families, nor of

those who did the removing. The importance of this to them….I don’t want to, if you like, diminish the importance of that,

but again the most important thing is life itself. And its interesting Steve you know I come here to Canberra to represent

the community of Bradfield and my electorate and to lead the Opposition. I’ll have a veritable army of media people

asking me questions about apology and so on, how many questions you reckon I get about, for example, my recent visit

to Aurukun where a 10 year old girl was gang raped and the offenders basically got off scot-free? How many questions

you reckon I get about the fact that a four year old girl can be raped by a couple of teenagers that have been sniffing

petrol while their mother’s off drinking alcohol? How many questions do you reckon I get here in Canberra about the fact

that the basic services that we as Australians have a right to receive are still not being delivered by many state and

territory governments throughout the country?


Well Paul Keating stood in Redfern, as I said, 16 years ago and said we’re going to win, we know we’re going to win, well

we haven’t’ won, we’ve lost?


Well Steve look we’ve made progress. In the last decade at least there’s been some improvements in perinatal mortality,

gastrointestinal diseases…..


…we haven’t won…..


…. respiratory diseases and so on, but I can assure you we still live in a country where an aboriginal person has a life

expectancy equivalent to that of Haiti, Ghana, India and Papua New Guinea. We still live in a country where an aboriginal

woman is close to 50 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence, driven by alcohol, the control

of which is near minimal if any in many of these remote communities. We’re still living in a country where for example

one in five aboriginal people are under the care of a kidney specialist, they’re suffering from diseases the rest of us forget

even existed. And we’re also in a country where say in the Northern Territory there’s 270 fewer houses now today then

there were several years ago.


Can I get the mechanics here right, Dr Nelson, we’re talking to Brendan Nelson Opposition Leader, if you don’t endorse

the apology, is that right that the apology will then come from the Government, not the Parliament, and what deadline did

they set on you to endorse the apology, given it’s not even been written yet?


Well look Steve I’m glad you asked me that. This is all appearing quite chaotic. Mr Rudd yesterday when interviewed by

Channel Nine’s political editor, Laurie Oakes, said they hadn’t yet decided whether it would be an apology on behalf of

the Government or of the Parliament. If it’s to be of the Parliament, of course it needs to be supported by me and my

colleagues in the Liberal-National Parties.

We, I think, to the great credit of a lot of my colleagues, have decided in principle we will support this but if Mr Rudd

wants it to unify Australia, to bring our nation together, the most important person he should be negotiating with is me.

On behalf of those, not only my men and women whom I lead, who come from the length and breadth of Australia and

represent different parts of our broad nation, it’s very important that he actually sit down - we’re two days away from this

for goodness sake - he should be sitting down with me and saying these are the word which we propose, what do you



Well, wouldn’t the words have more strength if they were bipartisan?


Well, of course they would.


Because then they represent or they are agreed upon by all Australia, not just the Australians that were voted in by

people who voted Labor.


Well, absolutely right, Steve, and there are a lot of Australians of good heart who are very supportive of the significant

expenditure - which, by the way, this year will be about $4 billion on Aboriginal specific programs - who are very

supportive of that, who have very mixed feelings, if not opposition to this idea of an apology.

Our responsibility is to lead and I think, I find it extraordinary, that Mr Rudd - who has a reputation for working hard,

around the clock, the Labor Party’s wanted this for 10 years, it’s now more than a couple of months since the election -

we’re two days away and he still cannot show Australians what are we proposing here and what are we being asked to

support, who is actually giving the apology, to whom is it being given and on whose behalf. And I say this with goodwill

and determination to bring my colleagues, as I say, to the table to support this. By the way, I’ve already written my

speech but I’m still waiting to find out from Mr Rudd, well, what are the arrangements, what are the words, what’s the

program itself.


Does parliamentary protocol give you a right of reply?


It does. Look, as I understand it at the moment, this seems to change frequently, but as I understand it at the moment

from Joe Hockey, who manages Opposition business for us, the Government is proposing that there be an address by

Mr Rudd and there would be an address by myself. And okay, I would much prefer also, by the way, that the National

Party Leader have the opportunity to speak but this is the Government’s day, it’s a Cecil B DeMille production, if you like,

but nonetheless they have, I think, a responsibility to be clear and honest and open with the Australian people and me,

as the representative of pretty much half the country, to actually show us what they are proposing to do. And once that’s

shown to us, you and all of your listeners and everybody has an opportunity to discuss it rather than just do some sort of

surprise show on Wednesday morning.


So you’ve got no indication yet when you’ll see the wording.


No, I haven’t. I haven’t had any indication at all from Mr Rudd.


So aside from seeing Kevin Rudd tell Laurie Oakes it’s not finished, that’s it.


Yes, that’s it. And I’m surprised that Kevin Rudd hasn’t been pressed harder on this. I think, look Steve, whether you’re

pro or you don’t support an apology, whatever your attitude to any of these issues or whether you’re Labor or Liberal, I

mean, whatever your politics, I think the average person would think, well this is odd and this is as bit unfair on Nelson

and the Opposition and it’s unfair on all Australians. You know, whether you’re an enthusiastic embracer of apology or

you’re a bit dissident about it, I think we have a responsibility, we have the right, I think, to be taken into Mr Rudd’s



You’ve heard of Michael Mansell, the Tasmanian activist.




He has said today an apology is fine but without compensation the healing process will remain unfinished and he wants a

billion-dollar fund set up by the Commonwealth Government to be shared among 13,000 Aboriginal children. Would you

support such a fund?


Absolutely not. I heard Mr Mansell this morning, by the way, say that he thinks that the value of any compensation is in

the order of $10 billion but he thinks a billion dollars in a compensation fund should just about do it.

The important thing here is the apology itself and us saying that we are sorry for these things that happened, Steve. But I

don’t believe that any sum of money is ever going to compensate any individual or his or her family for being deprived of

the direct relationship and love of your mother and/or your father. And I think these calls for compensation will seriously

undermine the goodwill of good-hearted Australians who are prepared to go along with this apology, if not

enthusiastically support it.

We are spending - I’ll just repeat that - over the last 11 years of the Howard government we increased our spending on

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people specifically by 38 percent in real terms after inflation. It is now $3.5 billion a

year plus $600 million this year that will be spent on the Northern Territory intervention - not a dollar of any of that do I

resent - but for those who are calling for compensation for separated generations of Aboriginal children, just spare a

thought for 90,000 Aboriginal people living in remote communities of this country living lives of existential aimlessness

who have not even the hope of health and integrity of life and life expectancy enjoyed by the rest of the country. That’s

where the real challenge is.


Yes, I don’t think too many of them will be watching TV big screens on Wednesday. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.


Yes, thanks Steve.