The apology that turned out to be just words
When Kevin Rudd delivered an apology to the indigenous people in 2008, he committed himself and his government to a series of practical measures, designed to lift many aborigines from appalling conditions of poverty and abuse.
He promised a new bipartisan approach under the leadership of himself and the Leader of the Opposition. Subsequently, he promised the report on this great moral challenge on the first sitting day of each Parliamentary year.
Today these solemn promises can be seen for what they were: hyperbole from a Prime Minister who regularly makes grand statements but fails to follow-up on many of them.
According to Kevin Rudd, an apology to the indigenous people of Australia was the greatest imperative of his new government. Hence on the first day of sittings in 2008, Mr Rudd formally delivered an apology in the House of Representatives, surrounded by many of the elders and leaders of the indigenous people.
The apology was seconded by the then Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, and supported by most members of the House in a bipartisan common cause.
Apart from the symbolism of the apology, Rudd promised that he would tackle indigenous disadvantage.
Within a decade, he would “halve the widening gap in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities for indigenous children.”
He would also “halve the appalling infant mortality rates” within the same period. Thirdly, Mr Rudd promised, within a generation, “to close the equally appalling 17 year life gap between indigenous and non-indigenous” populations.
Fourthly, “over the next five years to have every indigenous four-year-old in a remote aboriginal community enrolled and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper preliteracy and prenumeracy programs.”
Finally, Mr Rudd promised “an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years.”
These promises were significant for many people who had worried that despite the expenditure of billions of dollars over the decades, the conditions for many aboriginal people remained unacceptable.
This was particularly important in light of the reports into the appalling conditions of neglect and violence that confronted many aboriginal woman and children each day.
Mr Rudd also promised that he would establish a bipartisan commission, under the leadership of himself and the Leader of the Opposition “to develop and implement an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years.”
He then went to London for the Progressive Governance Conference, convened by British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
Eager to show-off to his international audience, Mr Rudd made a further promise about this great moral matter: “each year in Australia’s Federal Parliament, the first working day will be marked by a Prime Ministerial Statement reporting on the progress of closing the life expectancy gap, progress in closing the gap in infant mortality and mortality of children up to five, and progress on closing the literacy and numeracy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.”
Mr Rudd failed to meet his promise in 2009 and again this year. Finally, at the end of the second week of sittings, the Prime Minister will report. What would his “progressive” audience think of this bad faith?
There have been seven ministerial statements that have taken priority over Mr Rudd’s report to the nation. Apparently the anniversary of the stimulus package and the national road safety council are now more important than indigenous disadvantage.
The joint policy commission has been long forgotten by Mr Rudd, while the fate of aboriginal housing remains a testimony to inaction and bureaucratic bungling. Mr Rudd will be long gone by the time frame for his other promises comes around.
This episode is the latest example of broken promises by Mr Rudd’s government. It reminds me of Carl Jung’s observation that “a man who promises everything is sure to fulfill nothing.”
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