The Difference A Word Makes

A year is a long time in politics! Just last year I wrote this post celebrating the 40th anniversary of a landmark in Australian history — the recognition of the the citizenship rights of our indigenous people. Today I watched as the opening of Parliament under a new government placed the spotlight on indigenous culture — with the traditional "welcome to country" performed in Canberra’s Parliament House by local Aboriginals.

And tonight, the Australian people sit at the precipice of a change that I feared would never occur in my own lifetime … our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will tomorrow read an apology. He will say the word "sorry" three times. This single word, "sorry", has been a contentious political issue here in Australia for years. But in refusing its utterance, in banning its debate, it has hung like an albatross around our necks — each individual silently bearing the weight of history and apathy in equal measure.

I hope tomorrow’s speech reignites the spirit of reconciliation that I joined in over twenty years ago. It is time to move forward — to confront with open eyes and open arms, the opportunities before us as a nation. There will be challenges, no doubt. Disagreements, many. But in addressing them, one by one, step by step, we will surely build a better place for us all to live in.

The full text of the speech is as follows:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations — this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Tomorrow, some time after 9am I will live in a different country. Who knows what it will look like in another 12 months? But I look to that future with, as Shakespeare would say, "a glad eye".