The Guardian August 23, 2000


Stolen Generations:
Government still in denial

by Peter Mac

Federal Government leaders have rushed to capitalise on, and misinterpret, 
the recent Federal Court ruling against awarding compensation to two 
members of the stolen generation.

Aboriginal applicants, Mrs Lorna Cubillo and Mr Peter Gunner, who were 
removed from their parents while still babies, had applied for compensation 
from the Court, arguing that earlier government policies of forcible 
removal had resulted in trauma and suffering for them and their families.

The Court rejected their case, on the basis that there was insufficient 
evidence in their particular case to prove that there had been a 
deliberate government policy of the forcible removal of Aboriginal children 
from their parents.

Nevertheless, the Court ruling did not deny the conclusions of the 
government report on the Stolen Generations, Bringing Them Home, 
which revealed that there had been thousands of cases of children forcibly 
removed from their families.

The Court found that: "neither the evidence ... nor the reasons for the 
judgement, deny the existence of the stolen generation."

Nevertheless, Prime Minister John Howard last week used the court ruling to 
justify his earlier statements that less than 10 per cent of children had 
been forcibly removed as a result of government policy, and that there was 
therefore no stolen generation as such.

He also used the opportunity to deny responsibility for apologising to 
Aboriginal people or offering reparations to members of the Stolen 
Generation.

With regard to reparations, Aboriginal Senator Aden Wridgeway has argued 
that a tribunal to deal with "Stolen Generation" cases would be fairer and 
more humane than individual court hearings.

He commented that family re-union rather than monetary compensation is at 
issue in many cases and that a tribunal would be a more economical way of 
dealing with the issue.

He also pointed out that there were already 1,000 applicants waiting to 
have their cases heard in court, and that if all 17,000 potential cases 
were dealt with individually it could cost the Government some $3 billion.

The Government will doubtless welcome the statement by Aboriginal leader 
Noel Pearson that a dependency on welfare is destroying Aboriginal culture 
and family life.

Pearson's statement fell into the trap of focusing on the shortcomings of 
welfare itself, while seeming not to recognise that it is the lack of 
employment that leads people to rely on welfare payments for support.

(He also posed the "symptom theory" i.e. that phenomena such as alcoholism 
and crime were symptoms of deep underlying social problems, against the 
need to treat such phenomena as problems in their own right, without 
seeming to acknowledge that both approaches are needed to deal with the 
issues involved.)

Nevertheless, Pearson's statement was essentially a desperate cry of 
frustration at the inadequacies of measures taken by the Federal Government 
to deal with problems facing Aboriginal communities.

And the final word on both welfare and the Stolen Generation belongs to the 
head of the Baptist Union of Australia (and the Federal Treasurer's 
brother) Tim Costello, who this week commented that "... mutual obligation 
extends beyond welfare payment.

"This notion of mutual obligation is something that the Government has to 
find a way through on a number of issues, and the stolen generation issue 
isn't going to go away just because of the O'Loughlin [Federal Court] 
decision."

Back to index page