Indigenous leaders used the anniversary yesterday of a landmark human rights report on past racist policies to ratchet up pressure on the government to pay compensation to Aborigines who suffered injustice.
On May 26, 1997, the government’s human rights commission released a report condemning past policies that took tens of thousands of mostly mixed-race Aborigines from their mothers in a bid to make them grow up like white Australians.
Then-Australian prime minister John Howard rejected the report’s two key recommendations — a government apology and compensation for victims who suffered abuse and injustice under these assimilation policies that existed from 1910 until the early 1970s.
The anniversary of the report is marked by National Sorry Day, which commemorates the forcible removal of children from their families and the devastating effects that had on lives.
New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved an apology to the so-called Stolen Generations through Parliament in February but resisted calls for compensation.
The 10th National Sorry Day has for the first time shifted its focus from calls for an apology to a need for compensation.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said yesterday the government should not “cherry pick” the report’s recommendations.
Western Australia state Aboriginal leader Jim Morrison called for compensation for individuals plus government money for culturally appropriate services and counseling for Aborigines.
Rudd gave a speech marking the day at Parliament House without mentioning compensation.
“It’s very difficult to read that report and not be moved by it,” he said. “The good part of the ... report was it enabled us as a nation to begin to reflect on what had happened, to begin to reflect on how we as a nation could make amends for past wrongs.”
Rudd also unveiled a plaque inscribed with the wording of the apology motion, which will be put on permanent display in Parliament House.