PM Rudd’s Apology:
Lessons for Humanity

by Halim Rane

[sent by author]

13 March 2008

The profound changes to the Australian political landscape over the past several months should serve as a reminder that no condition or situation can last forever. Before Kevin Rudd became leader of the Labor party, Howard’s Liberal party looked politically invincible. It also looked as though respect for human rights and human dignity would become permanently excluded from a role in both international and domestic politics. The integrity and decency that characterised Rudd’s election campaign was indeed a sign that change was coming.
In the first months of becoming Prime Minister, Rudd has already made significant reversals of some of the most disturbing Howard policies, including those concerning the environment, asylum seekers and indigenous Australians. The new PM has signed the Kyoto Protocol and has given serious attention to the issue of climate change. He has effectively ended the so-called ‘Pacific solution’ by closing the Australian detention centre on Nauru and bringing its detainees to Australia for processing. Also, in response to concerns I raised with the government, the new Attorney-General , Robert McClelland, stated in a letter to me that the government is in the process of establishing an inquiry into the handling of the Dr Haneef case, it will review the counter-terrorism laws in 2010 as scheduled, and in the interest of promoting human rights the government will consider a national charter or bill of rights as an option for Australia. 
 Most significantly, Rudd has said sorry to the indigenous people of this country. True to his word, the new PM made the apology to the stolen generations at the commencement of the first sitting of the new parliament on 13 February 2008. Even in the drafting of the apology, respect and dignity was shown to those to whom it would be made by consulting the indigenous people themselves. The apology was thorough, inspiring and sincere. Most importantly, it seems to have been well-received by indigenous Australians. The apology was couched in terms of acknowledging the wrongs and injustices of the past and setting them right. The word itself, ‘sorry’, was offered as a bridge, “based on real respect”, that could allow the nation as a whole to transcend the historical injustices inflicted on the stolen generations and build a new future. Rudd presented a future based on equality “where all Australians, whatever their origin, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country”.
In his address, the PM denounced the “silence” and denial of past governments, and how they continued to “look for any pretext to push this great wrong to one side, to leave it languishing”. He referred to the acceptance by previous parliaments of what was done to indigenous Australians as suspending “our most basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong”.  Rudd also spoke of the importance of “universal human decency”, which demands that the nation “right an historical wrong”. In so doing, he directed his condemnation to “deliberate, calculated policies of the state” that cannot be justified even in their own “historical context”.
The speech was honest and a demonstration of genuine leadership and courage. The PM made no excuses or qualifications; he declared that what happened to indigenous Australians was not myth or exaggeration but “the truth: the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth”. Rudd acknowledged that the only way forward from the commission of such injustices is to “confront that truth” and recognise the “indignity, the degradation and the humiliation” that has been caused. He also encouraged non-indigenous Australians to empathise with the indigenous by asking the critical questions: “Imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive”.  An especially important point made in the address was Rudd’s acknowledgement of the failure of old policies and his preparedness to abandon old approaches that have not worked for new ones based on human equality, dignity and respect. In the final part of the address, recognising the importance of identity factors, the PM sought to offer a new perception of indigenous Australians based on “pride, admiration and awe” for their “great and ancient cultures” that gives “a unique, uninterrupted human thread linking our Australian continent to the most ancient prehistory of our planet”.
The significance of the apology made by the PM also extends beyond Australia. It was an address that should hold meaning for other countries, especially other settler societies whose future will also remain in a precarious state until they too acknowledge and reconcile past wrongs and injustices. A case in point of global relevance is Israel. There cannot be peace in the Middle East or between Islam and the West until the question of Palestine is justly resolved. Like Australia, Israel will need to cease living in denial and acknowledge the injustice committed against the Palestinians. Specifically, there must be recognition of the ethnic cleansing committed by Zionist forces from November 1947; recognition that Palestinian males between 10 and 50 years of age were taken from their homes and killed and that those who were not murdered were then sent to either prison camps or refugee camps; recognition that women, young children and the elderly were expelled from their homes and villages and sent to refugee camps. As terrible as the crimes committed against the stolen generations of Australia were, what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians is much graver. For a new Australia that values human equality, human dignity and human decency, Israel’s policies and practices towards the Palestinians should be intolerable.
The state of Israel was established in 1948 on 78 percent of historical Palestine because Zionist military and paramilitary forced approximately 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and land, which was half the population at the time, over 80 percent of the population in the areas that became part of Israel. Over 530 villages were destroyed, 11 towns were emptied of their inhabitants, and over 30 massacres took place in the process. For 60 years these crimes have been denied, the victims silenced, and the charges ignored. There has been no equality in the peace process, no universal human decency. The policy of Western liberal democracies, including Australia, on the question of Palestine has been wrong and has failed. Negotiations between two parties as asymmetrical as Israel and Palestine cannot be expected to result in a just peace.  There needs to be a just peace based on the resolutions of the United National Security Council if peace is to be genuine and lasting – a point not yet recognised by the new government, or if it has, has not been expressed for fear of the Israel lobby.
In the case of indigenous Australians, Rudd has identified the keys to unlocking decades of indignity, injustice and disharmony.  Australia’s current policy on the Israel -Palestine issue is, however, no different from what is was under Howard. In fact, it could be argued that Rudd is trying to out do Howard in appeasing the Israel lobby. On 12 March he moved a motion in parliament in support of Australia to honour the 60th anniversary of Israel’s ‘independence’. A reasonable explanation for such a bizarre and outrageous motion (which was passed) will make for interesting reading. Beyond that, it is still the same old approach that is not working, devoid of respect for international law, human rights, human dignity, equality, and based on a denial of the truth. It makes no attempt to deal with the past; it does not seek to right a great wrong. 
One would hope that the PM will recognise that the keys to reconciliation with indigenous Australians are not unique but universal and that Australia’s policy on the Israel-Palestine issue must change in accordance with our nation’s newfound respect for the humanity of indigenous people. In light of recent developments, however, one would have to question the sincerity of Rudd’s apology to indigenous Australians and his commitment to universal human dignity when he so blatantly tramples on the dignity and humanity of another indigenous people for the scanty price of wooing a bunch of lobbyists.



Halim Rane is a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Griffith University and President of AMARAH (Australian Muslim Advocates for the Rights of All Humanity). He can be contacted by email at: or





about us
| links | contact us | home | register

© 2008 Australians for Palestine &
Women for Palestine