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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 1

Mr ORGAN (9:18 PM) —Many Australians were dismayed to hear comments by the Prime Minister last week that he believed his government's relationship with Aborigines was so good and that the best evidence for this was that people no longer asked him for an apology. I am sorry, but in this House on 26 May, on National Sorry Day, I specifically asked the Prime Minister:

... to say sorry to the Indigenous people of this nation on behalf of the non-Indigenous community in order to prove that, collectively, we recognise the harm which has been done to those individuals and families and that, now and in the future, all Australians will commit to the meaningful reconciliation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia

This government's relationship with Aboriginal people is at an all-time low—native title is in tatters, ATSIC is under attack and Aboriginal heritage protection legislation is a sham. There are reasons that people no longer approach the Prime Minister seeking an apology. As Audrey Kinnear, the co-chair of the National Sorry Day Committee said recently:

John Howard had his chance—

to apologise—

and he has shown he hasn't got the heart to do it.

The SPEAKER —Please refer to the Prime Minister as `the Prime Minister'.

Mr ORGAN —The Prime Minister consistently exhibits a profound lack of understanding of Aboriginal culture and heritage. He clearly does not appreciate the deep-seated unresolved concerns Aboriginal people have in regard to the manner in which their land was taken from them in 1788 with no compensation; the manner in which their culture—their civilisation—has been denigrated, belittled and denied; and the way in which they have been abused, murdered, dispossessed and disempowered.

From the time that Captain Cook first set foot on the sandy shores of Botany Bay on Sunday, 29 April 1770, the Aboriginal people have suffered. On that day, Cook fired at and wounded two local Aboriginal men—warriors. This was just a taste of things to come. With the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the local Aboriginal people were introduced to guns, grog and foreign disease, with smallpox wiping out half of the population of Sydney just six months later. It was a veritable plague, which some say was deliberately introduced by the British. Aboriginal land was confiscated, the women were raped and families were massacred. As Henry Reynolds and others have shown, and despite the denials of whitefella apologists such as Keith Windschuttle, there was genocide in Australia, there was frontier warfare and we, as European invaders, have much to be ashamed of.

We only need to look at the recent destruction of Aboriginal culture in the name of profit at Sandon Point in my electorate of Cunningham to realise that the abuses continue. The forced removal of Aboriginal children from their parents is a matter which has caused many non-Aboriginal Australians great shame and distress in recent years. They feel compelled to apologise for past and present ignorance and racism. Evidently, the Prime Minister is unmoved by the true history of this land and the plight of the stolen generations and their families. He seems to fail to understand why his apology is of such crucial importance. As Prime Minister, he needs to show leadership, compassion, knowledge and understanding of the history and plight of the Aboriginal people—not apathy or ignorance. Any apology must be genuine; otherwise, it is meaningless. As such, many feel an apology from the current Prime Minister would be worthless. Therefore, they do not seek it.

The attitudes which led to the forced removal of Aboriginal people from their families are still prevalent today. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is not alone in his views. We still live in a racist nation. As long as we refuse to recognise Aboriginal society and culture as equal and with precedent, then the claims of racism must remain. The Prime Minister likes to argue that he will not apologise for actions others took in the past. But the Prime Minister does not realise that the racism of the past exists in the present and that the root causes of past injustice remain.

And now we have the final insult: the Prime Minister thinks he has won the debate and the hearts and minds of Aboriginal people because no-one asks him to say sorry anymore. Well, no, Prime Minister: Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal Australians have just given up. Thousands of Australians have apologised in recent years. They have signed sorry books and they walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a sign of reconciliation. As a member of the stolen generations stated in the Bringing them home inquiry:

An apology is important because I have never been apologised to. My mother's never been apologised to, not once ...

The Prime Minister refuses to apologise to Aboriginal people because he cannot understand why he should. To exhibit such blindness and such a lack of compassion and understanding does not do this country proud. Perhaps one day the Prime Minister will apologise for an unwillingness to understand. Perhaps one day he will say sorry.

In conclusion, I would just like to point out that the Aboriginal people of this country are not going to hang around waiting for the Prime Minister to say sorry—that is the least of their worries. They are more concerned with taking care of their people and this land. They are prepared to wait for justice for as long as it takes—for they have been here for over 40,000 years and they have survived our attempts to wipe them from the face of the earth, whether it be via disease, guns, poison or assimilation.