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Representing Indigenous Australians' interests

By Stephen Hagan - posted Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Today, Wednesday, February 13, 2008, is the day when Kevin Rudd will deservedly be entered into the record books as an audacious leader who dared to go where no other has gone by following his convictions and publicly saying “sorry” in Federal Parliament to members of the Stolen Generation.

I say he is audacious because it was indeed a bold move to commence with the announcement of “sorry” as the opening business item on the first sitting day of his newly elected administration.

The down side to Kevin Rudd’s audaciousness is the potential public backlash to his action, which I’m sure he is patently aware of, from conservative voters on both sides of politics, which could render his occupancy of the lodge a tenuous one indeed.


Personally I think Rudd has nothing to worry about as I suspect the voting public would much rather see a decisive leader at the helm making a call on the hard decisions, irrespective of how popular they may or may not be, than a leader such as Brendan Nelson who has a history of changing parties and views on issues.

If anything I believe Rudd’s stance on this issue will consolidate his position as the most preferred prime minister for at least two terms.

No one wants to be remembered as a one-term PM, so for that fact alone I take my hat off to Kevin Rudd for tackling the most controversial issue, up front, before moving on to other pressing issues.

The fact that he will not be announcing a compensation package to go with the “sorry” statement concerns me - but on this auspicious occasion I would much rather acknowledge this initial step as an incremental advance on an announcement of financial support for the Stolen Generation some time down the track.

One can only hope that through further meetings with those who were impacted by this unfortunate period in Australia’s dark past that the PM and his Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, will find it in their hearts to compensate them for their loss and suffering.

So as the momentous celebrations in Canberra, and throughout the nation, subside I expect discussion will inevitably move on to an equally important issue of a nationally elected Indigenous representative body.


I’ve been encouraged by comments credited to various leaders, in a range of national media outlets, of their proposals on the composition of such a body - from utilising existing native title claimants, especially elders, to perform the function of our representatives - to streamlining the old ATSIC model and making use of expert Indigenous advisors.

By using native title claimants, especially elders, to take charge of all Indigenous specific issues nationally I believe it would afford Indigenous elders the respect they deserve.

In principle it’s the way it was historically and still should be. But, sadly, along with the many benefits of modernity comes the breakdown of traditional values which impacts on the way today’s younger generation, in particular, perceive the role of their elders.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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