Sorry, Sorry Day…

I wrote this post for Sorry Day back in 2012, but it all still seems fairly relevant so I thought I’d share it again…

These are various questions I have been asked about the whole idea of ‘Sorry” over the years. Some of the answers are what I have said, others what I should have said, and some others I probably shouldn’t have said, but I did; so, you know… sorry about that.

Q. “Why should I be sorry for what my ancestors did?”

A. “Why should Aboriginal kids born in our lifetime grow up in conditions that will guarantee they will be sorry for ‘what your ancestors did’?”

A2: “see: white privilege”

Q. “Why should I be sorry for what my government did?”

A. “How about we just start with being sorry for what your Government continues to do, and then we can talk about working backwards from there?

Q. “How can the Government say Sorry on my behalf?”

A. “They didn’t:

‘We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country… We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.’

The Government apologised on behalf of the Government”.

Q. “Why should the Government of the day be responsible for the actions of previous Governments?”

A. The government is the same government, just with different people running it. When a ‘new government’ comes in, they are charged with addressing the issues of all ‘previous governments’. They do not get to start with a ‘blank slate’.

Q. [in regards to the idea of compensation for the Stolen Generations] “How could you possibly put a dollar amount on the Stolen Generations?”

A. “Through the courts. It’s called ‘compensation’, and it has existed within legal frameworks for a while now… google it”

Q. “We have said ‘Sorry”, so how about a ‘thank you’ for all the things we have given you?”

A1. “Go away and never speak to me again.”

or if that is not possible:

A2. “If you are given a bat you are thankful, if you are beaten with one you are not.”

Q. “We have said Sorry. So why are Aboriginal people still complaining about stuff?”

A. “If you say sorry for stealing my wallet but have no intention of giving me my wallet back or the money that was in it, I might find it a bit hard to forgive you… or to buy food.”

Q. “My family are immigrants, why the hell should I feel guilty?”

A. “Sorry is not just an admission of guilt, it is also an expression of sorrow. If a friend of mine loses a family member I say “I’m sorry” – it doesn’t mean I killed them.”

Q: “What is Sorry Day all about anyways?”

A. The first Sorry Day was held in Sydney in 1998, exactly one year after the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in Federal Parliament (26th May 1997).

The idea behind an apology, and behind Sorry Day comes from a recommendation of the Bringing Them Home report (5a).

That all Australian Parliaments

  1. officially acknowledge the responsibility of their predecessors for the laws, policies and practices of forcible removal,
  2. negotiate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission a form of words for official apologies to Indigenous individuals, families and communities and extend those apologies with wide and culturally appropriate publicity, and
  3. make appropriate reparation as detailed in following recommendations.

Q. “Do we still need a ‘Sorry Day” now that the Government has actually said “Sorry?”

A. “I’d rather explore that question after we have implemented 5a 1, 2 & 3 rather than just 1 & 2; and the other 53 recommendations that were made in the report… but even then the answer (for me at least) will still be ‘yes’; I see that question as no different from ‘Do we still need an ANZAC Day?’; ‘Do we still need an Australia Day?’ – they are reminders of our past, and a time to reflect on what we want our future to be.”

Q. “Is Sorry Day intended as an admission of guilt, or as an expression of sorrow?”

A. “For the Government, it is both. For individuals, it is up to them to decide their own feelings; to consider their own history; and to take any actions they see as appropriate. No one is forcing people to ‘say sorry’ in either sense, it is entirely up to the individual.”

Q. “Does saying Sorry make a difference either way? … Does it actually help anything?”

A. Often I have answered this by saying ‘not really – I still prefer Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech’; I am a cynical bastard at the best of times… but when I saw a lot of people shed tears of joy after the apology, it became clear that it helped them; that it had a profound meaning for them… so in that sense it was very valuable. There are also various organisations that have sprung up after the apology, like the Aboriginal & Torres Strait IslanderHealing Foundation which do some good things, so that is of value too.

I just feel that it is half-hearted if it is not backed up with more meaningful actions… in the apology Kevin Rudd said:

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future.

Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.

Since the apology was given, Australia has pushed forward with John Howard’s NT Intervention… we have abandoned our human rights obligations. We are pushing forward with the Stronger Futures Bill despite Aboriginal community opposition, and despite having held a completely false series of ‘community consultations’ which ignored the voices of the communities that were consulted.

We still lock up too many Aboriginal people; men, women and children. We still take too many children from their families, their communities and their culture.

We still suspend and expel too many Aboriginal children from school.

We still sweep too many problems under the rug as though they are someone else’s problems.

… Aboriginal people are still made to feel ashamed for standing up and saying “I am Aboriginal”.

… A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

This is not that future.

Kevin took that first step… he opened the door.

We are still waiting for someone to walk through it.

I am scared that the door is closing… fast.

I’d really like to be more on board, I would, but I can’t be. Not yet…

Maybe in the future I will be able to.

Sorry, Sorry Day…

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