|Pacific Media Watch|
Pacific hails Rudd apology to Aboriginals
Title -- 5311 REGION: Pacific hails Rudd apology to Aboriginals
Date -- 18 February 2008
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Inter Press Service 15/02/08
Copyright - IPS
Status -- Unabridged
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RUDD APOLOGY TO ABORIGINALS HAILED REGIONALLY
By Shailendra Singh
SUVA (IPS/Pacific Media Watch): Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudds standing and stature will receive a considerable boost among Pacific Island states as a result of his apology to the countrys Aboriginal people this week, say academics and civil society activists.
Vijay Naidu, director of the Development Studies programme at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, said that while the apology was long overdue, it was better late then never.
Naidu said Rudds apology had significance for troubled Pacific Island countries such as Fiji and the Solomon Islands, even though the ethnically-based issues and problems they faced were quite different from those that have bedevilled Australias first nation people and Australia as a whole.
"Indigenous Fijians and the Guadalcanal people of the Solomons were not decimated and did not suffer the loss of all their land, and were not marginalised and put away in reservations and urban ghettos.
"Instead in Fiji, Indo-Fijians, largely a landless category, suffered the brunt of coups and ethnic violence while in the Solomons, the perception of Malaitan "land grab" and political domination prompted the Isa Tabu freedom fighters to engage in violence with the Malaitans retaliating by forming the Malaitan Eagle Force.
"However, the message from Rudds apology is very powerful as it points to reconciliation, seeking forgiveness and moving together as a people."
Asked why it had taken so long to arrive at an apology, Naidu said that as a former settler dominion, the idea of racial superiority and "manifest destiny" appeared to have driven those who dominated Australian politics.
"These red neck leaders disliked liberal views about the plight of native Australians and instead engaged in blame the victim syndrome.
"The Mabo case also reveals that while there is a recognition of injustices committed against the first nation people, they might come at a cost."
Naidu added that while the apology will give the indigenous people a new sense of self esteem and a sense of being valued in Australia, the Rudd government needs to work with the many articulate first nation scholars and civic and community leaders who can engage their communities in dialogue about the way forward.
He said there is a need to identify policies and strategies to tackle profoundly complex problems as well as those relating to basic infrastructure and amenities.
"Besides the 100,000 missing generation who felt the direct brunt of the Australian state racism, there is the whole issue of long standing systemic and structural discrimination of Australias first nation peoples," said Naidu.
"There are issues of significant new policies and new resources directed at mainstreaming them. There is also issues relating to compensation payment."
The Suva-based non-government organisation (NGO) Citizens Constitutional Forum (CCF) echoed similar comments. CCF director Reverend Akuila Yabaki said that while the apology was welcome, it should be understood that any apology is a symbolic gesture.
He said the CCF, together with other local and international NGO partners, would urge the Australian government to follow up this significant milestone with innovative and effective policy and program initiatives in relation to Aboriginal health, income generation and education.
Yabaki said that the apology took long in coming because the "conscience of a nation" was involved. He added that a country with growing wealth and economy would not be easily convinced about a wrong committed against a voiceless community.
"It is also not easy for a country that once instituted the white Australia Policy in fear of the Chinese migration, to come around to this admission and apology."
But he added that Australian people -- as late arrivals -- have wrestled with some of their guilt of the past and praised Rudd for his initiative, saying he had a more accurate understanding of human rights and human responsibilities.
"Rudd will go down in history as an Australian leader who can give reason out of his conscience and not of schemes based on economic capitalism and related white mens assumption of supremacy and that they always know better than the Aborigines."
The Pacific Concerns Resource Centres (PCRC) director, Tupou Vere, also praised Rudd, saying he had delivered on his promise made during the recent elections in Australia.
She added: "PCRC on this occasion wishes to congratulate the Prime Minister for this historic and significant first step towards further reconciliation and healing between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities and the Australian Federal Government."
Vere said that PCRC was further heartened by the promise of the Rudd Government to follow-up the formal apology with initiatives in Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities aimed at improving health, education and economic opportunity outcomes.
"May this new momentum consolidate and strengthen better relationship and healing between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities and the Australian Federal Government, with all races in a truly multi-cultural Australia."
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