Last week I attended the launch in Melbourne of a report released by the organisation Stolen Generations Victoria. The report is called Unfinished Business, which is the same name given to a report from a Senate Committee I initiated into the Stolen Wages issue. This is a reminder that all these injustices are interlinked. To me, all these reports and the evidence and experiences they draw on are a clear indication that we will never fully address all the difficulties experienced by many Indigenous Australians until we fully recognise all the extreme injustices Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were subjected to over the last two centuries.
When you read all the histories about the massacres, the killings, the forced removals, the imprisonment on ‘reserves’ and the atrocious mistreatment and neglect Indigenous people were subjected to over many decades, the practices that led to the Stolen Generations are far from the worst.
Given there is still significant resistance amongst many in Australia to acknowledging the reality of the Stolen Generations’ experiences, it is reasonable to suggest that we as a nation are still a long way short of fully acknowledging the many other less than positive aspects of our history, no matter how well documented and undeniable it is.
It is good to see people continuing to agitate for proper reparations for the Stolen Generations. But it is telling and welcome that the final of the 12 recommendations in the report proposed that “The Federal government should seriously consider negotiating a treaty with the first Australians.”
A treaty is very unfashionable these days, but the reasons why it was a good idea when it was promised, but not delivered, by the former Hawke government, are just as valid today. It certainly won’t fix everything all by itself, but it is hard to see how everything could be addressed without some major mechanism of acknowledgement of the dispossession and major wrong doings which played a significant part in building the Australia of today.
Unfinished Business: Reparations, Restitution and Rehabilitation’ was a series of forums conducted by SGV throughout Aboriginal Communities in Victoria in 2008. The aim was to hear directly from members of the Stolen Generations as to what they would like to see happen in recompense for their experiences. The report details the findings of those forums and is necessary reading for anyone interested in the plight of the Stolen Generations today. The report is aimed at government and relevant organisations and makes 12 recommendations.
When I was still in the Senate, I tried to promote further consideration of some of the unfulfilled recommendation from the Bringing Them Home report – particularly through introducing legislation aimed at providing some degree of compensation for more of those affected by this practice. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert has continued on with the task by reintroducing a stronger version of the same legislation.