Monetary Compensation and the Stolen Generations: A Critique of the Commonwealth Labor Government's Position
(2010) 14(1) Australian Indigenous Law Review 18
17 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2013
Date Written: January 16, 2013
More than two years on from the Federal Labor Government’s parliamentary motion of apology to the Stolen Generations – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wrongfully separated by government action from their families as children throughout the 20th century – questions continue to be asked and evaluations made of the Government’s performance in Indigenous affairs. Has the apology’s noble sentiment, undoubtedly one of the high-water marks of reconciliation in Australia, been matched with meaningful progress and action? Much focus has been on the Government’s commitment, made most prominently in Kevin Rudd’s apology speech, to ‘closing the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the areas of health, education and employment. In fact, this focus has been invited by the Federal Government itself: in February 2010, timed to commemorate the apology’s two-year anniversary, the Government delivered its second annual progress report on the advances made towards ‘closing the gap’. In light of the ongoing and dire problems of Indigenous disadvantage, such attention is certainly warranted. The focus of this paper, however, is different and much narrower: the Federal Government’s action, or more precisely, inaction, in relation to the provision of compensation to the Stolen Generations. In the wake of the apology, some positive federal initiatives specifically for the Stolen Generations have either been implemented or continued, including: the establishment of a working group of Stolen Generations members to assist in the development of healing services; the ongoing funding of the Bringing Them Home counselling program, Link-Up services and other programs; and, significantly, the establishment of a national Stolen Generations healing foundation. Yet the Government has ruled out the establishment of a national compensation scheme for the Stolen Generations and their families.
I begin this paper by placing the Federal Labor Government’s denial of compensation in its historical, social, ideological and policy contexts. I then proceed to an analysis of the main arguments advanced by the Government in rejecting compensation for the Stolen Generations. These have been put forward on a number of occasions by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. There is no indication from Prime Minister Gillard that the Labor Government under her leadership will take a different view. First, I offer a critique of the Government’s ‘closing the gap’ policy as a response to the Stolen Generations issue. This is followed by a consideration of the Government’s insistence that compensation can be sought through the courts. Analysed next is the argument that money can never sufficiently compensate the Stolen Generations for the harms they have endured. Lastly, I consider the possibility that negative and unintended social consequences may flow from the sudden influx of money into Indigenous communities resulting from the payment of compensation. None of these arguments put forward by the Federal Government, I suggest, offers a compelling case for refusing to compensate the Stolen Generations.
Keywords: Stolen Generations, monetary compensation, reparations, Australia
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