Podium: Australia owes us an apology

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Aden Ridgeway

From a speech by the senator for New South Wales

during a debate in the

Australian parliament

in Canberra

ON THIS special occasion, I make my presence known as an aborigine, and to this chamber I say, perhaps for the first time: "Nyandi baaliga Jaingatti. Nyandi mimiga Gumbayynggir. Nya jawgar yaam Gumbayynggir."

Translated, it means: "My father is Dhunghutti. My mother is Gumbayynggir. And, therefore, I'm Gumbayynggir." Many people come to this place not as politicians but as farmers, as miners, as teachers and so on. I come as a Gumbayynggir Goori - but also as a reconciliationist.

I have known for some time that the challenge in being elected would arise in being aboriginal and Australian. The indigenous grievance is deeper than mere questions of party consideration.

Reconciliation is perceived as a simple and easy thing. On the contrary, it is difficult because it challenges the things about this nation that prevented our proper recognition and being. If reconciliation is to challenge, then it must remove the obstacles of exclusion and provide the very vehicle by which we achieve proper recognition and national social cohesion.

We must bulldoze every obstacle to the inclusion of Australia's indigenous people in national life. The biggest obstacle to reconciliation is fear, and every reconciliationist has a higher responsibility to remove white fear in the interests of achieving permanent reconciliation. I see at this moment a nation grappling with all the oppressions of Australia's indigenous peoples. I see a nation crippled by racial resentment, disabled in its capacity to do good and prevented in courage to stop further wrongs from being done.

In two centuries, it is true to speak of colonies and a nation as being less than half-perfect in its dealings with aboriginal people and Torres Strait islanders. It is also true that, in return, Australia's indigenous peoples have reciprocated only half an affection.

Our laws have created a tragedy among many of my people, and the beauty and splendour of this country conceal the legacies of the policies and the symptoms of rottenness, decay and idleness. I too hear talk of reciprocity, but it would be wrong to suggest that the moral evil of our condition has its origin with ourselves. This is wrong, and it fails to understand the cause of idleness.

Indigenous Australians are not responsible for failing government policy, nor is there a conspiracy in the bush to be sick, unemployed or in gaol. These are the legacies of the shameful past that continues to manifest itself in the present. So our focus must be on the evil of that idleness, and not on the victims of indiscriminate laws. The legitimate source of idleness and the consequences of its miseries rest within the laws of this country.

I want to visit the recommendation that the past be acknowledged and there be a gesture of atonement. I support the idea of an apology being given, and I take great pride in knowing that every parliament in this nation has, in its own words, acknowledged the past and expressed sorrow about the forced removal of aboriginal children from their families. These responses have been mixed, but their expression of acknowledgement, sorrow, regret, apology and reconciliation has been clear.

In moving forward, we must place an immeasurable space between what was and what could be through the key factors to achieving reconciliation - namely an acknowledgement of past practices and their consequences, an apology and a renewed commitment to reconciliation.

This has not been an easy issue to deal with, and during the past few days I have agonised over the heartfelt views of members of the stolen generation and their families for the consequences of an unjust past.

I am not a stolen generation member, but I am mindful of my duty as a human being to acknowledge their past, their hurt and the consequences of poor decisions that left scars in families and an indelible stain on the national character. These are the results of misguided past policy, but I am now mindful of a moral duty to acknowledge those miseries, to call upon conscience to put these matters to rest and, through reconciliation, to render justice for all.

So I am now calling upon this government to act above party consideration and to raise the country's pre-eminence in dealing with a matter of national interest by moral obligation.

And I call upon this government to renew its commitment to reconciliation and to express its deep and sincere regret for the hurt and the trauma suffered by so many indigenous peoples.