Wednesday (13/02/2008) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his famous Apology
to the Stolen Generations - that is, to those Australian aboriginal
children who were removed from their parents because of their
theory behind the term ‘Stolen Generations’ is that in doing so
government agents were implementing a policy of the Australian government
to eliminate the aboriginal race. The victims of this policy and their
descendants continue to suffer from this removal to this day.
would think that, this being the case, and the Apology constituting an
apparent admission by the government that it is the case, there
would be a clear moral argument for offering compensation for this damage,
and that if it is not freely offered then a legal case could be mounted to
compel compensation. Yet we are assured that no such compensation will be
offered, and that we need not expect legal claims for compensation to be
assurance comes in two forms. In the first place, we are told that the
Prime Minister sought and received legal advice on this matter before he
made the Apology; and the clear implication is that the lawyers’ advice
was that there is no reason to fear that compensation must necessarily
follow from the Apology. At the moment we have no ability to judge the
worth of that legal advice because the government has refused to make it
public. Second, the assurance is sometimes given as a lesson from history.
On ‘Insiders’ (ABC,
9am, 17/02/2008) Julia Gillard, seeking to reassure viewers on this
matter, argued that similar apologies by state governments had not been
followed by legal obligations for compensation being imposed on those
governments. She did not, however, expand on why that might have been so.
might note in this context that compensation claims have in fact been
tested in the courts, and the judgement
has been that they are without merit, for the very good reason that
the courts could find no evidence that there was any such policy of racial
elimination as the theory of the Stolen Generations supposes.
guess is that the legal advice to the Government made note of this, and
also gave strong grounds to believe that there never was such a policy at
the federal level (whatever may have occurred at the state level.) No
eliminationist policy would mean no Stolen Generation, which would mean no
compensation for claimants on the basis of membership in that group. Now,
on the one hand, that is good news for the federal budget, and for the actual
moral standing of past Australian goverments and their agents; but on
the other hand, it would rather spoil the effect of the Apology if it came
to be known that the current government believed it was Apologizing for
something that had never happened. In fact, if it was known that the
government had deliberately and knowingly accepted on behalf of
Australians the guilt for an attempted genocide that had not happened, the
resentment of Australians at this slander might very well undo (and then
some) any benefits that the symbolic action might have achieved.
guess is correct, therefore, we should not expect this advice to be made
public any time soon.