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There is No Stolen Generation.
There is Separatism
The Age Thursday, August 24, 2000
We must now undo the damage of 30 years of Aboriginal policy
by Peter Howson
This month’s dismissal by Justice O’Loughlin of claims by two part-Aborigines for compensation from the Commonwealth for maltreatment in the Northern Territory constitutes a triumph for both sides of the Aboriginal policy debate.
Why? Because it effectively undermines the myth that the Commonwealth Government has committed cultural genocide and must offer an apology. And it offers the opportunity to further encourage Aborigines to enjoy the liberty of being full and responsible members of Australian society.
Traditional Aboriginal practices are becoming less relevant. About one third are completing secondary school and 45,000 are undertaking vocational education and training; the proportion of indigenous adults married to non-indigenous spouses has increased to 64 per cent, and the majority of Aborigines are now of mixed descent. Further, over 70 per cent live in urban communities and profess Christianity.
None of this means that these Aborigines have cut all links with traditional cultures, any more than those migrants from non-Anglo-Saxon countries have cut links with theirs. But they are more actively participating in the wider community.
For the remaining minority, the separatist policies of the past thirty years have been disastrous. A recent report by John Reeves QC on Northern Territory land rights concluded they have resulted in "hopelessness, despair, and anti-social behaviour." Other reports, including an earlier one by Prof Colin Tatz, have also revealed horrific violence in traditional Aboriginal communities. And, as The Age reported this week, there are worrying numbers of children sniffing petrol.
Some studies attribute the violence to separatist policies of cultural recognition, land rights and self-determination. Most striking, perhaps, is the Queensland report by Professor Boni Robertson, herself an Aborigine. That report stated:
"The degree of violence and destruction in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities cannot be adequately described. The Task Force found evidence of all forms of physical, psychological, cultural and structural violence being perpetrated, and while many may consider the violence to be a characteristic of indigenous cultures there are other factors that must be considered.”
Evidence adduced by the Commonwealth for presentation to Justice O’Loughlin - evidence not challenged by the appellants’ Counsel - showed the majority of children were placed in hostels by their parents. Those placed by the Government almost all reflected parental consent. It emerged during the case that some children believed they were stolen but were unaware they had been placed in hostels by parents.
Little wonder that Justice O’Loughlin concluded the evidence did not support a finding that there was any policy of removal of part-Aboriginal children. While being careful not to tread directly on anyone’s toes, he also expressed doubt about the claimants’ ability to recall accurately events that occurred when they were small children. In fact, the mountain of counter-evidence submitted by the Commonwealth left little option but to reach this decision.
The O’Loughlin decision follows the NSW test case in which Judge Abadee found
against Joy Williams on all causes. After the submission of very extensive
evidence, the Judge found the claimant was not stolen and he described the whole of
the evidence as against the plaintiff’s claim. Yet Williams was quoted in Sir
Ronald Wilsons’s notorious Bringing Them Home report as a typical stolen child.
Each time his 1997 report has been properly tested by cross-examination it has been shown that he has reported unsubstantiated childhood memories without testing their veracity.
That report has other substantial defects because it further encouraged a generation of mixed race Aboriginals to regard themselves as victims. Far too many have become dependent on government handouts and abandoned self-responsibility . The tragedy is that government authorities, such as ATSIC, and other community bodies have lacked the courage to acknowledge that Australia has no stolen generation.
Sir Ronald’s report has been discredited by Judge O’Loughlin’s decision. Let us turn our attention to policies that encourage traditional Aboriginal communities to move away from the separatism of the past 30 years.
Governments and churches must now concentrate on policies that aim to really help those Aborigines who remain within the cultural prisons of their traditional communities.
Peter Howson was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1971 and 1972