Land


Long term readers of this blog would probably know that I occasionally like to mess around with Google Earth and to try out new things to do with languages and so forth. It began with an exercise in mapping some known and established place names in the Sydney Metropolitan Area, mostly concentrated in and around the Harbour, and then it moved on to a small project of mine to map the region of the Northern Territory with which Wagiman is traditionally associated.

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On my way to work late this morning, I took note of how many Aboriginal and Torres Straight flags there were flying prominently around Sydney Harbour. They flew above the bridge, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and notably, above Kirribilli House. I don’t know if they’ve been there any longer than just today – the day of the formal Parliamentary Apology to the stolen generations – or if they’d been there for a while, but certainly, and fittingly, today is the first time I’d noticed.

The apology itself was of course only one part of this morning’s proceedings, and a short part too. And since the text of Kevin Rudd’s first parliamentary act as Prime Minister had already been made public, the more interesting part of the session occurred after the reading of the motion. Both Rudd and opposition leader Brendan Nelson delivered very deliberated, considered speeches, each of which took more than twenty minutes, while the motion, at 361 words, was finished in under three.

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It’s been almost eleven years since the tabling of the Bringing them Home report, and tomorrow, the Australian Federal Parliament will formally apologise to the stolen generations.

This afternoon, Rudd made the full text of the apology available for the first time and, despite some earlier whining from some members of the coalition, specifically over the use of the word stolen, Brendan Nelson has signalled that he will support it as it stands.

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In less than a week, the federal Australian Government will catch up to the eight states and territories, and only a decade behind them.

The Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament on May 26, 1997. Within two days, Western Australia and South Australia, both Coalition-governed states at the time, had issued unreserved apologies¹. By the end of the year, only Queensland and the Northern Territory had yet to apologise. Queensland issued their apology in 1999, a little under a year after Peter Beattie was elected, and the NT issued theirs only six weeks after Clare Martin was elected in 2001.

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Today, Friday January 25th 2008, marks the 219th anniversary of the last day that Australia’s indigenous population had full and unchallenged sovereignty over their lands, and is therefore the day that I think should be celebrated as Sovereignty Day. Tomorrow, Australia Day, marks 220 years since Arthur Philip, by mere speech act, decreed that the entire continent belonged not to its inhabitants, but to the British Empire instead.

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It seems that Gerard Henderson, former culture warrior, has coined a new euphemism in relation to Australia’s indigenous history. Henderson has always disputed the term stolen generation, because the population of stolen aboriginal people hardly comprised an entire generation, so it’s odd that this new euphemism of his retains this word.

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We’ve had a few weeks of a Rudd government since the election now, and I reckon it’s been so far so good.

He’s made a few political errors of course, like gagging Peter Garrett (but let’s face it, Garret was Latham’s recruit as an environmental campaigner, not an environmental parliamentarian) and looking as though he’d obfuscate negotiations in Bali while awaiting an economic impact study (which should make the Libs very happy indeed, one would have thought) but with respect to handling the shambles that was the half-baked, knee-jerk Northern Territory intervention, he appears to be on the right track.

First of all, he pledged to keep all that $1.3 billion that Howard and Brough had earmarked for squanderin’, and spend it on the better aspects of the intervention while rolling back some of the more controversial and downright ludicrous aspects. Rudd says he’ll halt the changes to CDEP and gradually reverse them, and the permit system looks as though it’d be reinstated.

On Saturday, Rudd flew back from Dili where he stopped over on his way back from the Bali conference, and landed in Darwin to commence talks with aboriginal community leaders about what to do with the intervention. The Combined Aboriginal Organisations of the Northern Territory, headed by Olga Havnen, have presented both the federal and Northern Territory governments with a 14-point plan to reverse the changes to CDEP, which apparently, has been welcomed.

Contrast this with the standover tactics that Brough used while in talks with community leaders; all reports depicted him as basically telling them how it would be, and not listening to their concerns at all. Rudd has therefore passed the first test of leadership on indigenous affairs; he’s engaged aboriginal people – that is, not just Noel Pearson – and included their concerns in his policy planning.

So from the outset, things look pretty good. All except for the fact that the government doesn’t plan on stopping the quarantining of welfare payments, although the scheme will be subject to annual review, which, you may recall, was one of Labor’s recommendations when the bills went (briefly) before the senate back in September, and subsequently rejected by the Howard government.

I have to say, I’m rather optimistic about this. Well, optimistic that things will pretty much go back to where they were a year ago. Clearly, there’s an awful lot left to do and, to their credit, the government did a good thing in identifying the appallingly high rates of preventable disease in children. Hopefully some of that $1.3 billion pie will go towards fixing some of these shameful health problems, something for which this current generation of Australians should formally apologise.

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By the way, two intervention soldiers have been slapped on the wrist after getting drunk and supplying grog to local aborigines. However, the matter is now being investigated by the defence force, which is kind of like the Mafia investigating its own activities.

Remember the allegations of sexual assault in the defence force that were revealed on Four Corners earlier this year? What about the systematic bullying in the defence force that likely caused the suicide of a soldier? Both these matters were investigated by the defence force itself, and nothing untoward was found.

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