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Paul Keating's Redfern speech « Previous | |Next »
February 9, 2008

The hard drive on my Toshiba laptop has died, as has the old computer at the weekender in Victor Harbor. So I'm writing this post from the public library at Victor Harbor and not much that I'm writing is getting through. I've wasted an hour or so on posts that never went public for some reason. So this post has to be brief, as I am only allowed an hour community access by the library

So I will make do with a quote from Paul Keating's influential and important Redfern speech:

...the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me?

It is a good point is it not---we have failed to make the most basic human response? Have a read of the speech, when you have a moment.

It's a good speech and a long way from the current conservative obsession about blame, individual responsibility, and the black armband of history. Keating is about asking asking Australians to imagine what it would be like to be suffer from the events he describes.

His speech writer is kind. He attributes these events to our ignorance and our prejudice. It's the old Enlightenment story; one that ignores the workings of power.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:13 AM | | Comments (13)


Yes. For me it is exactly what Keating said.

Yes he is essentially right but....
We must recognize that the we he is referring to was not us.(meaning me and you)
When all the sorry's are done the indigenous people MUST recognize that the people who were not alive or not involved are not to blame. Otherwise the blame just goes on and on and on.

I think thats a fair trade.

I don't recall Keating talking about blame in his speech. He is saying that we should try and imagine what it would be like to be an indigenous person under the circumstances he has described.

The blame stuff has been imposed by Christian conservatives.

Yes I realize that.
I guess I am thinking beyond the the sorry.
For a start I would think that a lot of people would be offended by his use of the work we. I think thats fair enough. I was born in 1962 so what could I have to do with stolen generation children. And in 20 years time too what would that generation born have to do with it? Nothing.
The point I'm getting at is after the sorry's there must be a new mind set coming from the indigenous that that was done and the present Australians aren't to blame.
There is a mind set in the black community that whites are to blame for everything. I am not talking about the academic or well educated aboriginal I am talking about the average ones.
If it continues into the future it really is just white racism.

like the conservatives you make the central theme the view that whites are to blame for everything. Blame is the core and you link these events in the distant past have nothing to do with me. For the political conservatives a lot of this looks to be feigned public agonising.

The individual being to blame for these events is not Keating. What Keating is saying is that:

we [as a people or nation] failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me?

You cannot pin your blame discourse on Keating. As Keating's clearly speech shows he is not thinking in terms of blame and individual responsibility for these past events.

The conservative discourse looks to be feigned public agonising because the Rudd apology is about government policies in the 20th century. The conservatives are so busy agonizing in public that they are not making much of a contribution to the debate about this aspect off our history.

You missed the point.
Have you ever spoken to an aboriginal?

The conservative dogs have barked and the caravan has moved on. We will see how the Indigenous people themselves treat the significance of the federal Government saying sorry to the stolen generation on Wednesday.

It looks as if they are according it great significance. If there is a debate about the sorry issue, then it is now one about compensation or no compensation.

Rudd is welcome to say that there will be no compensation but it will come down to legal argument.

The injustices were done. On Wednesday they will be admitted. Its quite a compelling case and can only result in a win for those involved. Its only a matter of working out how much.

we will have to wait and see. I heard on Radio National that some Labor states--ACT + SA?---are pushing for compensation. Tasmania has already done so. Jennifer Mills in The Whole Sorry Business in New Matilda makes a good point:

On one level, we're all sick of the whole "sorry" business and just want to move on. And that's just it. Sorry is not an end to anything but denial; its moral force is that it enables us to begin to do the real work - perhaps even the right thing. It does not equate to forgiveness, reconciliation, or reparations.

It's an end to the denial being centre state. Denial of the hardline rejectionists in the Liberal Party who denounce the Stolen Generation as a cause celebre, and those culture war dinosaurs (eg., Quadrant, the Bennelong Group etc) who maintain that the treatment of Aboriginal Australians was a successful exercise in Christian philanthropy until the cultural leftist do-gooders took over in the 1960s.

Nigel Mansell, Legal Director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, was on Radio National Breakfast this morning talking in terms of a compensaton fund of $1 billion.

I heard that Keith Windshuttle is saying that the sorry apology should come with a $50 billion compensation. This proposal is from a man who either denies these events happened, or thinks that it was a good thing. Smells like the politics of fear to me from the conservative denialist camp.

yes it does appear that some unification of the states on this issue will be good.
Wednesday may be the catalyst for this.
There have already been many court cases around the place on this issue. One most recent a member of the stolen generation was awarded $500,000. Not because they were displaced but the judgment was made for the depression that he suffered in later life because of it. This case was in the South Australia courts (I think).
Apart from that case for which may be considered landmark the stolen generation case is a matter of Human Rights and will be pursued in that manner.
The government really has little option I think than to pay up.
There is some thought that this pay out may call into question other welfare decisions that were made at the same time and whether the flood gates may be opened.

In his article in The Australian on the forthcoming apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to members of the Stolen Generations and their descendants and families on behalf of the Parliament of Australia, Noel Pearson has someremarks that bear on what you said above. Under the psychological angle he says:

Most white Australians will be able to move on (with the warm inner glow that will come from having said sorry), but I doubt indigenous Australians will. Those people stolen from their families who feel entitled to compensation will never be able to move on.Too many will be condemned to harbour a sense of injustice for the rest of their lives. Far from moving on, these people -- whose lives have been much consumed by this issue -- will die with a sense of unresolved justice.

He continues:
One of my misgivings about the apology has been my belief that nothing good will come from viewing ourselves, and making our case on the basis of our status, as victims.We have been -- and the people who lost their families certainly were -- victimised in history, but we must stop the politics of victimhood. We lose power when we adopt this psychology. Whatever moral power we might gain over white Australia from presenting ourselves as victims, we lose in ourselves.

He conludes by saying:
My worry is this apology will sanction a view of history that cements a detrimental psychology of victimhood, rather than a stronger one of defiance, survival and agency.

Is that what you are getting at above?

Not entirely but there is some interesting thought there.
Thats why I agree totally with compensation. Now if we were talking about Africa I would have a differing view. But Australia can afford to compensate and it(we) have a morale obligation to do so.
I would expect that those compensation claims will die with the people involved otherwise the amount could exceed what is viable.

As any group our indigenous don't speak with one voice so what ever system is introduced it will not go down well with all and there will be much varied opinion.
I think 500,000 for the displaced person and equal to the mothers that are still alive is fair. Remembering that most had white fathers who were not around.
But then you open up to what the displaced persons treatment was where they were taken and was that place worse for them. Should they be paid extra if they were sexually abused there when the likelihood was that they would of been sexually abused where they were.
Its a hard one. No wonder they are playing their cards close to their chests.

Can I just add at the bottom here that Keatings speech is a good one but like all words. If they are not backed up with actions they are just words. He had the opportunity to stand up and say sorry and pay up. He sat on his hands next to the fire instead.