Apology and Reparation: In Their Own Words

A roundup of some background and responses around Apology Day and reparations.


“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”

“Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples”, moved by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Feb 13 2008.


In accordance with international law, States have the duty to adopt special measures, where necessary, to permit expeditious and fully effective reparations. Reparation shall render justice by removing or redressing the consequences of the wrongful acts and by preventing and deterring violations. Reparations shall be proportionate to the gravity of the violations and the resulting damage and shall include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

… Theo van Boven for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law”, 1996


Breach of human rights

The Inquiry has further found that from about 1950 the continuation of separate laws for Indigenous children breached the international prohibition of racial discrimination. Also racially discriminatory were practices which disadvantaged Indigenous families because the standards imposed were standards which they could not meet either because of their particular cultural values or because of imposed poverty and dependence.

Finally, from 1946 laws and practices which, with the purpose of eliminating Indigenous cultures, promoted the removal of Indigenous children for rearing in non-Indigenous institutions and households were in breach of the international prohibition of genocide. From this period many Indigenous Australians were victims of gross violations of human rights.

Other victimisation

The Inquiry has found that many individuals were victims of civil and/or criminal wrongdoing. These wrongs were perpetrated by `carers’ and typically ignored by government-appointed guardians. They compounded the initial harm and damage caused by the children’s separation and the denial of access to their families, communities and culture.

[…] The Inquiry concurs with van Boven that the only appropriate response to victims of gross violations of human rights is one of reparation. In international law and in the practice of other countries the term `compensation’ is generally reserved for forms of reparation paid in cash or in kind. Other terms are used for non-monetary compensation. The term ‘reparation’ is the comprehensive notion.”

… Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing Them Home – The Report, section 14 “Reparation”, 1997


“There are still 52 Recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report that have not been fully implemented.”

… Helen Moran, National Sorry Day Committee event “Stolen generations track home”, 21 May 2007.


“Recommendation 5a is about Reparations. Reparations embraces Rehabilitation, Restitution, measures against Repetition, Acknowledgement and Apology and Monetary Compensation. It is critical that these items be addressed, it is non-negotiable and must not be watered down. “Sorry” is a necessary and important beginning, but it is only a beginning”.

… Helen Moran, National Sorry Day Committee Indigenous Co- Chair, in “Will Sorry Just Be an Empty Tokenistic Word?”


“We are calling on the Australian Government to now implement the recommendations in the Bringing Them Home report. Restitution, rehabilitation, guarantees against repetition and compensation are critical next steps.”

Amnesty International, 13 Feb 2008


“Mr Rudd has repeatedly ruled out offering compensation, insisting his priority is instead to fund a plan to tackle chronic indigenous disadvantage. But Greens leader Bob Brown said it was embarrassing for Parliament to ask for the apology to be accepted without reparations, and he has vowed to seek an amendment inserting an offer of compensation.”

Misha Schubert and Sarah Smiles, “Sorry. We’ll never let it happen again”, The Age, Feb 13 2008


“They’re talking about closing the gap (on indigenous disadvantage) now … but they must not consider that to be a compensation.”

… Aboriginal leader Lowitja O’Donoghue, as reported in “Closing the gap ‘is not compensation'”, news.com.au, 14 Feb 2008


“I believe no Australian prime minister has done more for Aboriginal people, in practical terms, than John Howard. After 11-and-a-half very difficult years as prime minister, I think the guy’s entitled to a bit of time out.”

… Tony Abbott, “No show Howard ‘deserves time out'”, on John Howard being the only living ex-Prime Minister absent from yesterday’s Apology, Herald Sun, 14 Feb 2008


“I haven’t had Mr Rudd apologise to me”

… Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, “Nelson waiting for Rudd to apologise over speech snub”, ABC News, 14 Feb 2008


Categories: indigenous, Politics, social justice


4 replies

  1. This is a good collection of quotations. Hearing/reading people talk about the issue of reparations and compensation over the last few days has been very sadenning.
    As with the issue of the apology itself, I’ve seen so many people arguing along the lines of “those Aborigines just want to take our hard-earned tax dollars”: essentially, they blame the Indigenous population for the situation, rather than directing their anger at the people responsible for the situation– the goverments of the past (and as Rudd so rightly pointed out in his speech, these are NOT the governments of the distant past that we are talking about). Of course, no one wants to direct anger at the people who were responsible for it, becuase they supposedly had good intentions, and they took many children out of abusive homes (implying that if you removed thousands of white children from their parents, you’d not, just by coincidence happen to remove some who were in abusive homes– no way, that’s impossible, white people don’t do that!)
    And of course the people making these arguments never consider that they might not have had the opportunity to make all those hard-earned tax-dollars if it hadn’t been for the fact that so many Aboriginal people have been removed from their lands, and been subjected to attempts to destroy their culture. I mean, there are a lot of Australians who are not personally responsible for what happened to Indigenous Australians, but it remains that we benefit as a result of those atrocities, simply by virtue of the fact that we live here.

  2. Ack– there was supposed to be another “supposedly” in the second paragraph there– it should read “and they supposedly took many children out of abusive homes”.

  3. I’ve seen so many people arguing along the lines of “those Aborigines just want to take our hard-earned tax dollars”

    The “our” has a lot packed up in it, doesn’t it? There’s the obvious Othering, but then there’s also the assumption that “we” are the ones working and earning the money, and “they” are the undeserving ones taking it away.
    Colonialists didn’t only take the land, they also made their fortunes off the backs of Indigenous people’s forced servitude. I have the impression that very few white Australians are actually aware of the servitude/stolen wages issues.

  4. *sigh* This stuff makes me sad. Anything I say here is just preaching to the converted… it just makes me sad.

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