Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No justice without apology - Howard must make peace with Aboriginal Australians

October 12, 2007 - After over a decade of refusing to apologise to Aboriginal Australians over their ongoing horrific treatment, Prime Minister John Howard has boldly admitted his own failure to recognise the "importance of symbolism" in healing the rift.

"My goal is to see a new Statement of Reconciliation incorporated into the preamble of the Australian Constitution. If elected, I would commit immediately to working in consultation with indigenous leaders and others on this task," said Mr Howard.

But Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation say the Prime Minister cannot expect Aboriginal people to accept his proposal to recognise them in the constitution unless he is prepared to make a national apology for past injustices...

Dubbed a racist by many during his reign, Mr Howard says he has changed his views on Indigenous reconciliation. On the eve of a Federal election, he said he now believes there should be a referendum to place a preamble in the federal constitution which recognised Indigenous people's "special" place in the nation.
In his speech to the Sydney Institute, the PM set out his new position - promising that if he wins the election he would bring in a bill to include the preamble statement.

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) national director Gary Highland says Mr Howard will need to make peace with Aborigines first. Mr Highland says the success of a constitutional referendum will hinge on the wording of the document and the process through which the words are chosen.

"He will need to make his own peace with Aboriginal people and their leaders if he's to make peace on behalf of the nation," he said. "This will have to be a carefully considered approach. "It will have to be genuinely negotiated with but until we see the process and until we see the specific words that are being proposed its too early to tell whether this will be a positive step that the Prime Minister would hope it is."

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says he is surprised by what appears to be a dramatic change in Mr Howard's attitude to symbolic reconciliation. "He has, with his mantra about practical reconciliation, actually undermined real genuine effective reconciliation, because of his refusal to accept the importance of acknowledgment of past wrongs," he said. "So I'm surprised, but I'm pleasantly surprised. It's not the be all and end all. We still have to fix up some of the other damage that Mr Howard has done."

Reconciliation Australia chief executive Barbara Livesey said there needed to be consultation with Aboriginal people about the proposed change to the preamble. "We've always said that 'sorry' is an important element of the reconciliation process, particularly for members of the stolen generation.

"Another bloody election promise," former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission chairwoman Lowitja O'Donoghue said. "It's not before time, it's what we've fought for, but who believes him? I don't."

Former Labor president and Aboriginal activist Warren Mundine said the announcement was "a bit surprising". "He has been Prime Minister for 11 years now and he is doing this just days before calling an election. He should go the extra step and say sorry," he said.

Mr Howard says he still does not believe the Government should apologise for past injustices.

the west
Speech Extract - The Australian
brisbane times

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