The apology to indigenous Australia

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Moving and interesting events in indigenous politics

Bob Gould

The significantly changed state of affairs in indigenous politics in Australia has been reflected in the opening of the Australian parliament.

The first event was a moving, colourful elaborate and unprecedented welcome to country at the opening of parliament on Tuesday. That’s a very big change in Australia.

The second event was the moving, carefully worded, and rather spectacular apology to the stolen generations delivered by the new Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, this morning.

The enthusiasm of indigenous people, including those from the National Indigenous Convergence, who packed the galleries of parliament, was extraordinary. The often rather low-key and occasionally colourless Rudd delivered a moving and impeccably sensitive speech, as far as it went.

He avoided any commitment to compensation, and his detailed commitments to concrete improvements for indigenous people were limited, but the very act of delivering the apology in forthright terms reflects an extraordinary change in Australian politics.

The new leader of the Tory opposition, Brendan Nelson, by contrast with Rudd, showed the inability of the conservatives to change direction. He seconded Rudd’s resolution but his speech consisted largely of reiterating the full Tory program of support for all aspects of previous Coalition policy, particularly the failed military-style intervention in Northern Territory indigenous communities, including the proposals to push indigenous people off welfare and to close down the CDEP employment scheme.

These Tory policies were implicit in Nelson’s preaching about the need for indigenous self-reliance. He also defended many of those who removed indigenous children from their families in the past, as being well-intentioned.

He waxed lyrical about past Australian wars (despite the fact that indigenous veterans of those wars usually faced discrimination in many aspects of their lives on their return). Nelson has the unenviable job of placating his parliamentary right wing and Liberal-supporting culture warriors such as Keith Windschuttle, whose attack lately has been to claim that his research shows no government records of illegal forced removals. (This underlines the trickery that’s fundamental to Windschuttle’s methodology in his writing about indigenous dispossession, both in the distant past and more recent history. Literally dozens of removed indigenous children, now adults, have told their stories on television in the past week or so, totally crushing Windschuttle’s reliance on so-called documents.)

As Nelson’s speech moved to its crescendo, hundreds of indigenous people in the parliamentary gallery and watching on large screens outside turned their backs on Nelson.

Kevin Rudd and indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin are involved in a certain amount of Bonapartism dictated by the Labor Party’s constituency, which includes the whole 600,000 people of indigenous Australia and the whole left half of Australian society.

Rudd and Macklin are under strong pressure from indigenous forces in and around the Labor Party, and the broad left of the indigenous community (which is probably a substantial majority of that community) to reverse the most reactionary features of the Howard government’s NT intervention. This pressure is exerted by means such as the very successful indigenous convergence outside the parliament and the vigorous activities of indigenous members and supporters of the Labor Party, including the indigenous MPs and ministers in the NT parliament.

It was interesting to see on television the response of respected left indigenous leaders such as Mick Dodson and Anita Heiss, herself a stolen child. They were very moved by Rudd’s apology and said it didn’t go far enough but it was an excellent start.

That’s the obvious line of march chosen by the broad left in indigenous Australia.

From that point of view, the usually very perceptive John Pilger has made a rather serious political error in his statement that the apology and associated ceremonies are a waste of time.

That’s clearly not the way the substantial broad left in indigenous Australia, and in Australia as a whole, views these developments, and it offers no practical line of march to advance the struggle.

I’m strongly inclined to fall in behind the line of march suggested by indigenous leaders such as Mick Dodson and Anita Heiss.

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12 Responses to “The apology to indigenous Australia”

  1. Brolga Says:

    Pilger doesn’t live in Australia and hasn’t for a long time. He’s badly out of touch with indigenous sentiment if he thinks the apology was only for whites and would mean nothing to Aboriginal Australians. The apology was very important to every Aboriginal person I know of, and all their families, many of course whom themselves were stolen children or descended from them.

    Rudd’s speech was sincere and good. Perhaps this was as much as anyone could have hoped for. He was well advised on the wording. I think compensation is due but I don’t think it’s the most important thing because it won’t in itself change the past or even improve the present lives of the stolen generations or Aboriginal people as a whole.

    The way to that still needs to be mapped. I’m far less confident that the Rudd government will do and promote what is necessary for the development of a genuine process of Aboriginal self-determination. And that must be the focus now.

    Nelson’s speech was brutally inappropriate especially in his disgraceful and abusive retailing on this day in this forum of details of assaults on Aboriginal children. Howard would have been proud of him.

  2. John Says:

    Sorry to rain on your parade Bob…but i believe that “the failed military-style intervention in Northern Territory indigenous communities, including the proposals to push indigenous people off welfare and to close down the CEDEP employment scheme” was given enthusiastic bi-partisan support and continues under the Rudd government [you seem to think that Rudd is the new Lenin andthat the Labor party has been transformed into the Bolsheviks but i think that a sober assesment of fact shows that you are wrong.]

  3. Christian McNeill Says:

    The debate about what’s needed to solve endemic problems within Aboriginal communities – problems which I attribute to the original dispossession and all that followed – is really only just beginning again after being stalled for so long. And the varying approaches don’t necessarily neatly line up with old political schemas, sectarian demarcations or policy certitudes. It’s new territory to a large extent.

    I welcome there is once again real debate amongst disparate, contending Aboriginal voices in particular. Bring that on. Marcia Langton’s leaning towards policies that decentre cultural heritage and land rights in support of direct, economic development and white law-and-order models. Ditto to a large extent Noel Pearson. There are enornous contraditions in their positions that I haven’t seen explored. But so too the welfare model is patently failing and many Aboriginal people I know for a fact do not support CDEP or compensation for the stolen generations – for goodhearted, pragmatic reasons.

    I’d rather listen to and be part of a dialogue that allows all viewpoints to be heard and responded to. It’s the essence of democracy and the only way to progress this or any issue: not grandstanding and sloganeering, but serious, open-minded engagement with different viewpoints.

  4. Doolie Says:

    John could really could do with a course in formal logic and fallacious deductions before he delves into adult debate.

  5. Norm Dixon Says:

    ‘Apology is a start, now for justice!’

    In a short video, five Indigenous activists in the Socialist Alliance
    share their responses to the Australian Parliament’s apology for the
    Stolen Generatons. All five attended the protest against the racist
    intervention against Aboriginal communities in the Northern territory,
    held on the eve of the apology.

    http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=728

  6. John Says:

    Doolie, it is interesting to note that in your criticism of my comment you make no mention of the Northern Territory intervention which recieved enthusiastic bi-partisan support. Could you point to the great changes that Rudd has made?

  7. Doolie Says:

    John, Bob wrote:

    “Rudd and Macklin are under strong pressure from indigenous forces in and around the Labor Party, and the broad left of the indigenous community (which is probably a substantial majority of that community) to reverse the most reactionary features of the Howard government’s NT intervention. This pressure is exerted by means such as the very successful indigenous convergence outside the parliament and the vigorous activities of indigenous members and supporters of the Labor Party, including the indigenous MPs and ministers in the NT parliament.”

    How that tranlates into Bob thinking Rudd is a new Lenin and the ALP an incipient Bolshevik Party could only happen within the confines of an idiosyncratic imagination. Certainly, it can no way be logically deduced from what Bob actually wrote and from what I know of the man, I think he is a lot more politically savvy and sane than you give him credit.

    As to why in my response to your illogical riposte I would make no reference to the NT intervention, um, well, why would or should I? Bob’s points and political stance on the NT intervention were perfectly clear in the context of his piece.

    Finally, I think you need to know – take this as a community service message personally delivered from me to you – if you employ logical fallacies that’re obviously nonsensical then it is human nature for most normal people to completely discount everything you say – quite possibly forever after.

    Not a good place to be, John!

  8. John Says:

    “It’s not exactly a socialist revolution” said Bob in relation to the actions of the Rudd Labor government…a BOURGOIS government that represents the interests of big business…enough said.

  9. Ed Lewis Says:

    Ever heard of irony, John?

  10. John Says:

    Given Bob’s history of Labor- loving and his insistence that he is a “Trotskyist” [I’m not quite sure what he means by this term considering he’s an enthusiastic supporter of bourgois parties], along with his support for such right wing adventures as the Australian invasion of East Timor, I would say that the irony is misplaced.

  11. Bob Gould Says:

    The bloke who calls himself John is obviously on my case. He seems to belong to the generic category of the congenital ultraleftist of the Maoist-Presbyterian council communists of New Zealand, or some such, like the rather unpleasant Philip Ferguson, the cop-baiter of Irish nationalist leaders.

    I noticed that in response to my piece about Ferguson’s cop-baiting John makes the assertion that Jack Barnes is a police agent, which is a most unpleasant accusation to make without advancing any evidence. Barnes is no friend of mine, politically, but John’s accusations and the form they take are quite unacceptable from a socialist point of view.

    As others in this thread have pointed out, John appears to believe that people don’t even read what I write, because he makes comments that clearly distort and falsify the articles he’s commenting on. John seems to be a rather unpleasant bloke and a bit of a political lightweight.

    The one-dimensional, un-Marxist politics of this bunch of ignorant ultralefts is well represented by John’s comments, many of which are unintelligible without background. My views on the original Timor intervention are well know, and as it happens I share my point of view with both factions of the Australian DSP, despite differences with them on other matters, and anyone who likes to consult the Marxmail archives can read the discussion at length, if they’re so inclined.

    I’ve been a revolutionary socialist involved in a great deal of activity, all of it very public, for more than 50 years and if I was 16 all over again, I’d do it again, albeit a little differently sometimes with the benefit of hindsight.

    The monochrome and quite useless politics of the John-Ferguson school of ultraleftism about labour parties, and specifically the one in Australia, is hopelessly undialectical.

    Despite the fact that Ferguson tries from time to time to contest it, the sociological evidence is that the Labor Party in Australia has the support of most of the blue-collar working class, a large slice of the organised white-collar working class (which is split electorally with the Greens, which Ferguson and John also regard as a bourgeois party) and particularly the masses of more recently arrived migrants of non-English-speaking background, and almost the whole of indigenous Australia, which votes Labor between 80 per cent and 100 per cent.

    As well, a majority of blue-collar unions and a large number of white-collar unions are affiliated to the Labor Party and exercise considerable power in its structures.

    This produces a situation which, in my view (a view held over many years by many streams of revolutionary socialists) the Labor Party is at its base a proletarian mass organisation, with, however, generally speaking a conservative leadership that is influenced ideologically and in practice by the politics of the ruling class. This produces constant contradictions and tensions that often erupt in struggles between the labour base and conservative leaderships.

    A good example of this is the current battle in NSW between the Labor rank and file and the unions on one site, and the parliamentary leadership on the other, over electricity privatisation, on which the ranks of the labour movement defeated a Labor government once, 10 years ago, and they very may do so again.

    These sociological and political facts, in their dialectical contradictions, are the basis on which I’ve held a Labor Party ticket for more than 50 years. In that time I’ve participated in many struggles on the left and been a significant leader in a few of them, for instance the struggle against the imperialist war in Vietnam.

    I’ve written at length on many of these questions, generalising from the history and experience of the labour movement, internationally and in Australia, and based on my own experience.

    Discussion of these matters is always ongoing, the monochrome, metaphysical carcicature of Marxism of John and Ferguson, which doesn’t incorporate any serious Marxist sociology, is a pretty dopey way to start a discussion.

    I’m not concerned by John’s attack on me as a Trotskyist of some sort. I identify with the struggle of the Left Opposition against the Stalinism that destroyed the Russian Revolution, I respect Trotsky and the other revolutionary martyrs of that time, but if the truth be told I have the most personal and political identity with the outlook and practice of Lenin, the dialectician and practical revolutionary politician.

    Lenin made a number of serious political errors in his lifetime, but I find him a very attractive human being, unpopular though that may be these days, and his capital contribution to socialists outside Russia is that he taught us how to think dialectically if we make the mental effort that’s required.

    I’d recommended to the ignorant and rather simple-minded Johns and Philips of the political world, a bit of crash course in Lenin’s dialectical method, which might start with a study of Left Wing Communism, and a bit of an effort to come to terms with the recent book, Lenin Reloaded, a number of essays dealing with Lenin’s productive and useful encounter with Hegel’s dialectics.

    If John studied Lenin a bit more and tested his resulting theories in his own labour movement, he might learn a bit.

  12. John Says:

    Bob, if you want to recomend Lenin’s writings, how about you first have a cursory glance at “The April Theses”. In this [I’m sure your familiar with the pamphlet but you don’t seem to adhere to it] instructive pamphlet, Lenin highlighted the importance of a making a descicive political break with all of those social-chauvinists as well as the Kautskyite centrists of the Zimmerwald International.

    You are enthusiastically supporting a bourgois government, using the pseudo-dialectical justification of “objective force”. Rather than undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the class character of the Labor Party, you speak of large sections of blue collar workers supporting the Labor party.

    You the great admirer of Lenin that you are, houldknow that by itself the working class is incapable of achieving a socialist consciousness independantly of a vanguard party that fights for the historical interests of the working class.

    Without this vanguard, the highest level of cosciousness achievable by the working class is a trade unionist consciousness. This is why only a revolutionary vanguard can consciously articulate the historical interests of the working class including the neccesity of a political break from the reformist social democratic organisations.

    ps. references to Lenin’s “Left-Wing Communism” have been used by right wing trade union beuracrats, stalinists and Labor party hacks for years.

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