Monday, February 04, 2008

Now that's a counterpoint!

From Friday's Crikey...

The Liberals choke on a "sorry" response

David MacCormack writes:

What a difference a change of government makes. Now, the party most closely identified with wedge politics is being damn near cleft in twain – and over the apology to the "stolen generations", of all issues.

This should serve as a reminder that, when last in office, Labor was none too shabby at wedge politics itself. The underrated Michael Lavarch adeptly split the Coalition's ranks on issues like Tasmania's homophobic criminal laws. It didn't help them much come 1996, but it was fine sport to watch.

This time around it doesn't even look like Rudd and Macklin are trying particularly hard to politicise the apology. They've just said "13 February" and "sorry" and watched the Coalition tear itself apart.

It doesn't help that the Coalition leadership has no idea how to handle this. Like it or not, there are arguments against a formal apology. As John Howard often argued, it could lead to compensation demands – which is exactly what has happened, with demands from some indigenous leaders for a billion dollars in payouts.
Another is that an apology overlooks those individual circumstances where forced removal benefited the "victim". There is also a need to clearly indicate that the removal of children did not in any way amount to "genocide", and to claim it was is to insult the memory of groups who have been the victim of mass extermination.

All are arguments that resonate with voters, regardless of whether we latte-sipping elitists approve.

But nothing coherent is coming from the Coalition hold-outs. Nelson first tried to claim that there were more important things for Parliament to be doing than apologising. When he realised that this perhaps looked a bit churlish, he adopted a holding position, demanding to see the wording – a position that he'll find increasingly difficult to hold to between now and 12 February. There's only one word that matters, and that's "sorry", and we all know that will be in there.

Tony "people skills" Abbott – however improbably, the Opposition's indigenous affairs spokesman – has offered the Pythonesque line that Rudd and Macklin are "making it up as they go along". He should know – that's appears to be the Opposition's approach, too.

They look like a rabble. They're also missing the point that sometimes you need to cut your losses. There's a mood to say "sorry" and get on with repairing what St Kevin of the Clumsy Metaphor called the "bridge of respect". Even Parliament's mad uncle, Bill Heffernan, thinks it's a good idea.

Either the Coalition leadership should rally around a coherent position on why going beyond the previous expression of "deep and sincere regret" made by Parliament under Howard in 1999 is not appropriate, or they should minimise the damage to themselves by backing the apology. They may not really mean it, but at least it's sensible politics.

And from Today's (and a response to the above).

A sorry excuse for not apologising

Editor of The National Indigenous Times Chris Graham writes:

I've seen some offensive things in my time -- Tony Abbott springs to mind. But rarely have I seen something as downright ugly as that dished up on Friday by Crikey contributor David MacCormack (friday, item 3).

Under the headline 'The Liberals choke on a "sorry" response', MacCormack notes: "Like it or not, there are arguments against a formal apology. As John Howard often argued, it could lead to compensation demands -- which is exactly what has happened, with demands from some Indigenous leaders for a billion dollars in payouts."

Well David, there's 'arguments' against penicillin as well, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're cogent. Thus:

Number 1: This may come as a shock, David, but your fearless former leader lied to you. A collective national apology -- as opposed to a statement of 'sincere and deep regret' -- will not strengthen a single individual case for compensation. Period. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably considering a tilt at the Liberal leadership... which is not in itself a bad thing.

Number 2: In arguing against a formal apology because it might trigger a compensation bill (even though it won't), MacCormack seems to fear that we all might end up doing 'the right thing'. What a horrible thought.

As Nicole Watson, a Murri academic from the Ngiya Institute recently told The National Indigenous Times: "Compensation is not extraordinary. We have compulsory third party insurance schemes to ensure that victims of motor vehicle accidents are compensated. Our court system is filled with negligence cases. There's the James Hardie issue.... It seems to me that the issue of compensation only becomes controversial when it's raised by Indigenous people."

If MacCormack or anyone out there can provide a coherent argument against compensation, I'd love to hear it.

MacCormack also notes: "There is also a need to clearly indicate that the removal of children did not in any way amount to 'genocide', and to claim it was is to insult the memory of groups who have been the victim of mass extermination."

Horsesh-t. I think "clearly indicating that the removal of children did not in any way amount to genocide" might actually be more of a 'want' than a 'need', David.

A 'need' is basic health care, housing and education, something that has been denied many Aboriginal people for a very long time.

'Genocide' may not have been accomplished, but it wasn't through lack of trying. If Crikey readers are interested in the motivations behind the creation of policies like forced removals, they might like to google the name 'A.O. Neville.' Come up with a more accurate word than 'Genocide' to describe his intentions and I'll shout you dinner.

MacCormack also mentions in his article that "... an apology overlooks those individual circumstances where forced removal benefited the 'victim'."

Of all the Stolen Generations myths, this is by far the most offensive. I'd suggest people who believe this rubbish actually go out and try and find a member of the Stolen Generations who thinks he or she 'benefited' from being removed.

By the same logic, some women held as 'comfort wives' by the Japanese during WWII were not "victims" at all. They were actually being s-xually liberated! And in the 1940s, no less, 20-odd years before they began burning bras!

Upon extracting his head from his arse, David MacCormack might like to know a few 'facts' as opposed to fantasies:

- During the early 1930s, the British Anti-Slavery Society in London was alleging that Aboriginal people in northern Australia worked in conditions "no better than slavery".

- In the 1940s, numerous reports of Aboriginal people starving on northern pastoral stations began to emerge.

- By the 1950s, it was still legal in Queensland to contract children under 12 years of age into work, provided you got the approval of the chief protector/director of the local mission.

- During the 1960s -- the start of an era of unparalleled prosperity in Australia -- Aboriginal people were still living in squalid, horrendous conditions, working as slaves for no wages while being deliberately prevented from ever building an assets base, or a decent life for themselves.

- Right up until 1986 -- two years before the bi-centenary, ­black workers in Queensland still weren' paid equal wages by the Bjelke-Petersen government.

Why raise all this non Stolen generations stuff? Because Aboriginal people have endured two centuries of deliberate, institutionalised bigotry, racism and violence and yet David MacCormack,­ a middle-class white Australian male, the dominant species -- has the hide to cast retrospective judgment on their parenting skills. How dare he.

In the interest of science, perhaps we should take MacCormack and his family and subject them to the sorts of conditions Aboriginal people were forced to endure. Stuff two centuries - I'll bet you his children would 'benefit' from a little removal within TWO WEEKS.

Aboriginal children were removed from communities that were willfully, deliberately, criminally neglected by governments. This despair and suffering was socially engineered simply because in Australia, you don't win elections in Australia by spending money on 'the blacks'. That's how you lose elections.

Finally, MacCormack writes: "Either the Coalition leadership should rally around a coherent position on why going beyond the previous expression of "deep and sincere regret" made by Parliament under Howard in 1999 is not appropriate, or they should minimise the damage to themselves by backing the apology."

And I thought I was cynical. Sorry, David, but you're part of the problem, not the solution, so it's time to renew your membership to the Liberal Party and have that tilt at the leadership. The Libs could really use you.

Indeed. To all those people that whine about Aboriginal "benefits" or compensation my challenge is this. If you had a choice, given everything that has happened to indigenous Australians, would you choose to be aboriginal?

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