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Human rights and the national apology

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations presents Australia with an opportunity to reflect on the state of human rights in this country. To understand where we stand on human rights it is imperative to examine the political context of the world today, and where we as Australians fit into this reports Aletha Penrith and Joseph Correy in the South Sydney Herald of March 2008.

Globalisation may signal the end of an era where human rights abuses are discouraged. China will host the Olympic Games while human rights in the country are abused on a daily basis. Ironically, Australia, under the Howard Government, established stronger economic relations with China, which was formally recognised as a child-slave-labour capital.

Change is occurring fast, though one may question as to whether this is for the better. One may and should also question whether human rights hold the same relevance as they once did. Africans are the primary suppliers of diamonds and suffer under the worst conditions of poverty the human race has ever known. This happens despite Nelson Mandela being free and the African National Congress being well established.

In other countries, governments are rejecting Western institutions that have exploited them. South America has seen its first Indigenous Presidency with Eva Morales following Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in his defiance of Western imperialism. On the other hand, Cuban President Fidel Castro’s resignation following a 40-year dictatorship has delighted Western establishments that say it will allow for the development of democracy.

The rejection of Western supremacy in countries building independence outside of economic relations with the West shows that the world is changing. However, the perception that Aboriginals have superior human rights to Indigenous people in other countries, and the same opportunities offered to other Australian citizens, is a lie perpetuated by certain media forces.

The past decade has seen the media vindicate the actions of one of the most racist governments ever to be elected by the people of Australia. Yet the removal of the Howard Government and election of Kevin Rudd places Australia at a crossroads in its approach to Indigenous issues. Kevin Rudd, if he chooses, can right the many wrongs inflicted upon Aboriginal people by governments since the country was colonised.

Under a Labor Government the Australian public appears to once again be on the side of the Aborigine. Rudd’s popularity has soared since he said sorry to the Stolen Generations. He made the commitment before the election, appealing for voters to change the relationship with the Aboriginal community from dictatorship to partnership.

Mr Rudd convinced some Australians to shed racist attitudes by asking them to embrace empathy, understand the Indigenous struggle and take responsibility for Australia’s past treatment of Aboriginals. In contrast, John Howard boosted his popularity by appealing to the darker sides of human nature and entrenching self-interest, indifference and racism.

Support for the apology shows governments can change the attitudes of people to the benefit of Aboriginal Australia. A compensation fund for the Stolen Generations is something that can win popular support if our leaders advocate its merits.

At present, the Government is refusing to consider compensation for the Stolen Generations. In contrast, Australians mistreated by the Department of Immigration under the Howard Government are receiving compensation, including high-profile detainee Cornelia Rau who will be paid $2 million for her 10-month incarceration in Australian detention centres. When will Aboriginal Australians see the same justice?

Source: South Sydney Herald March 2008 -