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On the issue of compensation

On Wednesday February 13, as the first order of business in the 42nd Parliament, an apology was offered to members and families of the Stolen Generations reports Mark Hughes in the South Sydney Herald of March 2008.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, reminded the Parliament that in the 60 or so years between 1910 and the early 1970s more than 50,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families on the authority of laws passed by the various Parliaments of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister offered the apology, personally, on behalf of the Government and on behalf of the Parliament for “the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation” that the laws enabling forced removal of children led to.

The Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, spoke on behalf of the Coalition parties, in support of the apology, giving effect to a reversal of policy on the topic of an apology to members of the Stolen Generations which had been repeatedly refused under the previous government.

The issue of compensation for members of the Stolen Generations appears to remain unaltered by the recent apology. The Commonwealth Government has indicated that there are no plans to establish any form of compensation fund, nor any new regime for determining any claims for compensation.

On the day of the apology the President of the NSW Law Society, Hugh Macken, while expressing support for the apology, said: “The legal landscape is no different to what it was yesterday or will be tomorrow.” He expressed the view that the act of giving an apology does not alter any legal position, that no existing claims will be affected and that current processes already in place to deal with compensation claims would not be affected. Mr Macken said that so far only a few claims for compensation had been made by Indigenous Australians.

Tasmania and Victoria have both established compensation funds for Indigenous Australians. The Commonwealth and the governments of Queensland and NSW have ruled out such measures. The South Australian Government has said it may consider such a fund.

Rather than compensation, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, have  indicated that the focus of the Government’s efforts in Indigenous Affairs over coming years will be to improve the state of Aboriginal housing, health care, literacy and education and ultimately to reduce and eliminate the 17-year gap between the life expectancies of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Source: South Sydney Herald March 2008 -