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Australian Apology Should Set Example

PM Kevin Rudd is the first Australian politician to apologise formally to the country's Aborigines, who in the past were persecuted and discriminated against. The world can learn from this apology.

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The prime minister apologised for the wrongs caused by white immigrants towards Australia’s Aborigines over the last two centuries. Aborigine culture has been almost eliminated, and today, there are only about 450,000 Aborigines left. Most of them belong to the most disadvantaged sectors of Australian society.

The discrimination against the Aborigines in Australia goes back a long way. It first started with systematic killings of the Aborigines with the aim to drive them out of their tribal areas. And it didn’t stop until the late 20th century. Until the 1970s, tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were taken away from their parents as part of an “assimilation” policy. Some of them also ended up working as servants in the households of members of the white elite.

The racism behind these atrocities has survived till the present day. That is the only way to explain why even today there are still politicians who try to justify those events, and who claim that assimilation was in the interest of the “Stolen Generations”. Conservative former PM John Howard, refused to call the past violations by their real name for years. But his Labour successor Rudd finally decided to clear the air: a decision which is highly to his credit.

Words are not enough if the segregation of the Aborigines, which has become part of everyday life, is to be overcome. But as Rudd said, the apology will not be accompanied by financial compensation. Such compensation would be only be a drop in the ocean anyway. 200 years of killings, persecution and humiliation cannot be compensated for with money. Political measures have to follow if one of humankind’s oldest cultures is not to die out in a few decades.

Nevertheless, the official apology is a milestone -- not just for Australia. The rights of indigenous people all around the world have been violated for centuries. The lifestyles of people such as the Australian Aborigines, are often considered backward, uncivilized and, therefore, dispensable. The rights of the indigenous people of the Amazon, Vietnamese Highland peoples, and indigenous peoples from Namibia and from Iraq have also been violated.

Discrimination against indigenous people is part of a bigger picture. Like them, their environment is also dying out. Rainforests are being cut down, rivers are poisoned, the air is polluted. These are partly the result of our unquestioning faith in technology. And the consequences are not just felt by indigenous peoples. Climate change is now threatening people all around the world.

An apology calls for reconsideration. Kevin Rudd has made an important step in the right direction. It should serve as an example -- and not just in Australia.

  • Date 14.02.2008
  • Author Sybille Golte-Schröder (ah)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsDD
  • Date 14.02.2008
  • Author Sybille Golte-Schröder (ah)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsDD