The Apology is still an empty vessel: Sovereign Union

Letter to Members of both Houses of Parliament - copy

12 February 2013

Dear PM/Senator/Etc - Mailing List

Re: Australian Government continuing assimilation policy for Aboriginal Nations and Peoples [Indigenous Australians (sic)]

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the National Apology delivered by former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, we believe it is timely to analyse its implications. We acknowledge the significance of the Apology and its cathartic impact, however, hidden within the Apology is a very clever manipulation of English words that excuses the actions of the Commonwealth government being complicit and a silent player in authorising and legitimising the actions of Australian state governments. The Commonwealth Government’s 1937 sponsored Aboriginal Welfare conference clearly defines the Commonwealth government’s role in these acts of genocide.

The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes in its definition of:
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The 1997 Bringing Them Home Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families concluded that:

‘…indigenous families and communities have endured gross violations of their human rights. These violations continue to affect indigenous people's daily lives. They were an act of genocide, aimed at wiping out indigenous families, communities, and cultures, vital to the precious and inalienable heritage of Australia’. [1]

The ‘empty vessel’ factor and the heartlessness of no compensation is an insult and dagger to the heart and soul, thereby increasing the pain of traumatised Peoples. Many people argue that the effort on the part of former PM Kevin Rudd to apologise was worth hearing and that it did serve to act as a catalyst towards improving and easing the trauma of our people, but then to say that our people are not worthy of reparation and compensation for those affected is yet another major slap in the face for the survivors and their families of the Stolen Generations.

What is also not accepted by the Commonwealth government and their state and territory counterparts is the intergenerational trauma that pervades our communities nationwide.

Ironically, the millions of dollars that have been made available to the Link-Up programs may have helped some, but only serves to increase the pain and suffering of many. It is a well-established fact that there continues to be aged children and their offspring, who still feel ashamed and lost because of their fear of rejection from the families that they were removed from all those years ago. The psychological trauma that our people suffer must be dealt with prior to them making contact with their natural birth families. There are many thousands of our people out there in the general community who do fear rejection. These individuals and families suffer in silence, many of whom will never make contact with Link-Up and similar organisations and it is not right that there are centralised organisations which manipulate the recovery program on the scale that they do have in this country.

In the talk about ‘reconciliation’ we must address the need for restitution for the actions of past state and federal government’s administration of Aboriginal Affairs. We have a long way to go in achieving recognition on the scale that is required.
In regards to compensation for stolen generations, it is clear that State courts, such as in the South Australian Bruce Trevorrow case, the legal authorities have recognised removing children from the group is a major crime against humanity requiring compensation. If the legal system has now made this decision then it is time that State and Federal governments now revisit Kevin Rudd’s Apology and establish a reparations and compensation package as part of restitution.

There is also trauma and in many cases rejection on a much wider scale. This is demonstrated by the statement of Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, when he was premier of NSW, where he said words to the effect that it is not in the public interest to open the record books. To this day we still have religious institutions who refuse to open their books and State governments who claim their files have been destroyed.

In many of our Aboriginal communities throughout this country State and Federal governments fear the exposure of public records, because it is a well-known fact in Aboriginal communities that many influential farmers, miners, pillars of society, politicians and senior bureaucrats, who administered Aboriginal Affairs in the past, have all fathered children to Aboriginal mothers, then abandoned them to the assimilation process or the laisser-faire policy imposed on Aboriginal communities. This also includes prominent families in the capital cities, who had young girls placed in their custody as maid servants and cleaners.

In this respect a truth and reconciliation commission will not be wasted, if government were brave enough to initiate an action of this type. This way the contemporary Australian state may be able to join with us for a proper healing process. The government may be able to run but they cannot hide from our communities and our people will always remember.

In conclusion, solutions can be located in van Boven’s UN Principles for Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of Human Rights - restitution; compensation; rehabilitation; satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. Apology is but one step. [2]

Sincerely

Michael Anderson
Convenor, Sovereign Union of First Nations and Peoples in Australia
ghillar29@gmail.com 0427 292 492

[1} http://humanrights.gov.au/pdf/social_justice/bringing_them_home_report.pdf and "Conclusion". Bringing Them Home Community Guide. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission at Australasian Legal Information Institute (AusLII). 1997. Retrieved 8 October 2010.

{2} Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross
Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, UN General assembly resolution - A/C.3/60/L.24 24 October 2005