By Josephine Asher
Controversial expat Australian journalist John Pilger says Sorry Day is an event "without substance" geared towards white Australians, not indigenous people.
Pilger — who has made documentaries campaigning against the unfair treatment of indigenous Australians — told ninemsn Australians should boycott Sorry Day if they were serious about improving conditions for indigenous people.
"The 'sorry' is without much substance unless it is backed by an honest and massive rehabilitation campaign of all resources available to Aboriginal people," he said.
"Tears will be shed and there will be much emotion, but it will be over by next week."
He said Australia needed to sign a treaty, overhaul land rights, improve health benefits and implement comprehensive anti-poverty programs.
Pilger also criticised the government for not apologising at least a generation ago.
"Australia has treated its indigenous people worse than any other developed country," he said.
"Aboriginal people have been betrayed by every government since the Whitlam government."
He called on ordinary Australians not to celebrate Sorry Day unless they were going to take action on indigenous issues.
"To understand it they need to look at themselves and realise it's down to them to pressure their government to end the disgrace," he said.
"The whole 'sorry' thing is really to satisfy the white population, not the black population."
Pilger will unveil the world's largest poem in Sydney today to launch The Night Words Festival — a three-day celebration of rhythm and verse at the Sydney Opera House described as a "cosmopolitan corroborree".
The Public's Poem, displayed on a huge notebook almost five metres high, is a collection of one-line contributions from 400 young, old, native and new Australians compiled on Australia Day.
Pilger contributed this line: "Until whites give back to black their nationhood, they can never claim their own, no matter how many flags they fly."
Indigenous activists: ‘Sorry’ not enough, compensation now!
9 February 2008
In the lead up to the February 12 Indigenous rights convergence in Canberra, Green Left Weekly gathered statements from Indigenous activists around Australia. At the fore of people’s minds was the Northern Territory intervention, PM Kevin Rudd’s scheduled apology to the Stolen Generations and the issue of compensating those affected by that policy.
“The Aboriginal movement has not experienced this level of unity since the 1970s. The destruction being caused by the intervention is becoming clearer, suicide rates have increased in the NT for example. From left-wing to conservative, our people recognise the need to stand against the racist intervention. We are expecting thousands to converge on Canberra.”
Mitch, Aboriginal activist, Alice Springs
“Kevin Rudd has said his apology will contain an affirmation never to repeat past wrongs, but this is precisely what his government is doing rolling out Howard’s intervention. He is continuing the genocidal policy of the Stolen Generations and the Howard years.
“We are back to ’flour, tea and tobacco days’, being forced to work and jump through hoops for ration vouchers. Centrelink is not providing proper services for remote communities so there has been a mass exodus of our young people. My brothers have been forced into town to look for work.”
Barbara Shaw, Mt Nancy town camp, Alice Springs
“Centrelink is never organised to get our food vouchers in on time. We went the last long weekend without food. Kevin Rudd says this intervention is to help children but I have many young mouths to feed and the welfare quarantine makes this so much harder. I am a self-determined person concerned for my people, why should I be controlled by a government department? Today [February 7] we leave for Canberra to demand change.”
Michael Mansell, legal director, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Hobart
“The Rudd government claims to have exhausted consultation over the apology [which] really means Aboriginal people were told there would not be compensation and the final wording was entirely up to the government. It wasn’t negotiation: it was the Government telling people what was to happen.
“When the apology is given, it is widely believed there will not be a reference to genocide and there will be a lot of emphasis on the good intentions of administrators, officials and missionaries.
“It is more likely to look like an apology to those who did the moving than those removed.
“It is a pity the Coalition could not come to terms with history. To argue ’stolen’ should not be used indicates a shallow understanding of historical fact. Should we say the children were ’borrowed’ instead of stolen?
“The refusal to compensate undermines the claims of sincerity about the apology. How can a prime minister be sincere about what happened to the Stolen Generations but still leave them to suffer the consequences of being taken? It does not make sense.”
Nicole Watson, academic, Junbunna Indigenous House of Learning University of Technology Sydney
“I think that the proposed review of the intervention should be brought forward. While members of the task force have been at pains to convince us that the intervention has been a success, they cannot provide any evidence to prove that the intervention is producing positive outcomes. Only a rigorous and independent evaluation can do this.
“The government must commit itself to a dialogue with Indigenous people about the issue of compensation. In a society where we have a third party insurance scheme for victims of motor vehicle accidents and criminal injuries compensation schemes, the issue of compensation is hardly controversial. Furthermore, it is inhumane to force individuals who have already suffered great pain to endure the rigors of court processes.
“A national compensation scheme should be established. An apology in the absence of compensation is an exercise in pragmatism rather than nation building. It also demonstrates a lack of foresight because the issue of compensation is not going to disappear after February 13.”
Sam Watson, Murri activist and Socialist Alliance member, Brisbane
[On the NT intervention and the possibility of a extending it to Queensland.]
“Howard’s core strategy for the NT intervention was to suspend the NT Land Rights legislation and gain control of the land. At the same time as soldiers and tanks were moving in, the legislation was suspended for five years. Meanwhile, Australia was pushing the export of uranium — around 75% of which is in the NT.
“The Rudd government has been in power [for] three months, and the intervention is still in place. [Indigenous affairs minister] Jenny Macklin met with Queensland= premier Anna Bligh to discuss extending the intervention to Queensland. The Queensland Aboriginal leadership have a message to Bligh and Macklin: don’t even think it, don’t even try it — or there will be blood on the streets.
“Howard used the Little Children are Sacred report as a pretext for the intervention, accusing virtually every Aboriginal man in remote communities of being a paedophile. Yet only a handful of investigations have occurred, and only a handful of actual charges laid.”
[On the Stolen Generations, compensation, and Rudd’s apology.]
“When Rudd apologises, he must lay out pathways for stolen generation peoples to receive adequate compensation. The Canadian government has allocated [funds] for the victims of the Residential Homes era — the Canadian version of the Stolen Generations. Tasmania and Victoria [have] offered significant sums of money to Stolen Generations victims as compensation.
A key recommendation of the Bringing Them Home report was that compensation must be paid. In this day and age, it is basic justice that victims of violent crimes receive compensation through the courts.
Without compensation, Rudd’s apology won’t buy a loaf of bread or a handful of dirt.”
[On the February 12 convergence and beyond for Aboriginal rights.]
“Under Howard, the Aboriginal political leadership largely lost its edge. Under the surface, Aboriginal political cadres have been organising and regrouping. February 12 will be a coming out of the political spearhead of Black Australia.”
Lara Pullin, SA member ACT branch:
Intervention has to go. Sorry means nothing without an end to the NT intervention.
Other governments around the world are using the Australian intervention as a model of how to attack their Indigenous people.
People are not going to accept just “sorry”. They want a sorry that means something, a sorry that includes the “c” word that nobody seems to be able to get out, a sorry that does not divide people. We are not going to be divided like that.
It’s long overdue, it needs to be done but the main thing I am concerned about is to make sure that they get compensated though nothing will take away the trauma and pain they’ve gone through.
Natasha Moore, member SA Perth branch:
I think it is a start. By apologizing he’s acknowledging and recognizing the Indigenous people as the first people on this land. I think it will be part of a healing process so other Australians and Aboriginal people can come together and form alliances and partnerships on issues facing communities in the various cities around Australia.
I think it is just a stepping stone to getting more Indigenous issues addressed.
For the Stolen Generations, I feel for them. It has been a long time coming and governments have not acknowledges them for being stolen from their families and placed in institutions or foster homes. For them it is very important for those words to be said by our government but I also think it is only the start of a much bigger process that needs to happen.
Sam Watson, SA national spokesperson on Indigenous affairs:
We are sending a pretty clear message to Mr Rudd and his government: Don’t say sorry say sovereignty.
He can say sorry tomorrow and certainly there will be a huge number of senior people and elders in the chamber to receive his apology but people will also have to note that inside this Parliament of Australia there is not one single Aboriginal person.in the House or the Senate. So, again Aboriginal people are hostage to a political system in which we have no control and in which we have no real representation or capacity to influence or exert any pressure.
Lindi Dietzel, SA Geelong branch member:
I hope it is not hollow and I hope that it gives an answer for a lot of people who have a lot of grief. It is a great place to start but let’s see. We’ll watch this place