The national apology to the Indigenous people of Australia by the then prime minister Kevin Rudd celebrated 10 years of existence on February 13.
This was a momentous event in 2008 and a huge step forward towards mending the ills of the past and laying some firm foundations for the future.
It talked about honouring our Aboriginal people, righting the wrongs of the past, and looking for new solutions when old ones have failed. It further went on to mention mutuality – mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
Irrespective of political allegiance or otherwise, this could almost be described as a firm foundation on which to build future initiatives.
For me, the word mutuality seemed to be a powerful lynchpin. It suggests working together, listening to each other, being open to respectful dialogue and discussion.
There is a little story I read somewhere about a mother and her little boy.
The mother was trying to lay down the law for her son about something, and the little boy replied “Mummy, when you say “don’t”, I feel “won’t” all over.”
Too often over the past years decisions have been made without due consultation and the consequences have been horrific.
The ideology behind the stolen generations was faulty from the start, and the repercussions are still being felt. As a nation we must be very slow learners, or we don’t want to see the wood from the trees.
Statistics today record a huge rise in Aboriginal children being taken into care away from their families.
Among people for whom tribes and mobs are hugely significant and important, it must be devastating for all concerned to have children removed in such large numbers from their family homes.
Other statistics record higher percentages of Aboriginal people serving sentences in correctional services than people of other origins, and life expectancy well below the average in Australia.
Last weekend there was an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Good Weekend’ liftout about an extraordinary juvenile justice centre in Canberra offering effective and innovative rehabilitation programs for young people.
Two things took my attention – there were plenty of vacancies, and there were no Aboriginal inmates.
While lamenting the lack of progress, we need at the same time to celebrate the achievements of an increasing number of Aboriginal men and women graduating from tertiary education and holding down responsible and competitive roles across the nation, even as members of Parliament.
Here in Orange we have a prestigious Aboriginal Medical Centre founded some years ago, and servicing a large proportion of our population. We need to encourage our young people to stay in school, proceed to higher education and take their place in today’s society.
Australia needs to take seriously the challenges of the national apology and translate the words into actions. Sorry is not a word meaning forgive and forget. I see it as something far more alive and challenging.
We need to get behind initiatives to decrease the numbers of children taken into care, the excessive numbers of Aboriginal people in detention and so-called correctional centres, and the unequal treatment that is sometimes used.
Never forget – “I am, you are, we are Australians”.