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."