Queensland Law Society

President's update

President's Update

Eleven years ago this week, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology to the stolen generation of indigenous children. It was a controversial move, then and now, and has been the subject of endless debate; I have no intention of re-hashing that here, because there would seem to be little point.

From a practical viewpoint, it is of no consequence where people come down on the political and moral deliberations about this, as they go on around water-coolers and tearooms across the country. Whether you think the actions of the past were a genuine attempt to assist, an uncaring and ignorant solution to a difficult problem or a straight-out expression of evil intent, it doesn’t really matter. All those philosophical and intellectual debates fall to pieces when a little kid utters four simple words: “I want my mum.”

That is why it is important that we observe this anniversary, and that we stop to consider that at one time in our history, children were taken from their parents. Whatever one thinks of the decision at the time, or the apology, or any of the other issues peripheral to this one, I think we can all agree that taking a child away from loving parents is wrong; looks wrong, sounds wrong, feels wrong.

As if to illustrate the point, US president Donald Trump recently repeated this, having border guards and officials separate parents and children who crossed into the US illegally (or not, depending on who you ask). If you didn’t see it, I am sure it is available on the net, so have a watch. It looks wrong, sounds wrong, feels wrong.

I raise Trump’s actions for a reason. When we think of the stolen generation (or indeed anything bad that happened in the past) we tend to think that it was all in the ‘bad old days’ and couldn’t happen again. Those images from the US/Mexico border show us that it can happen in this day and age, if we let it.

That is why the apology was not without risk. Apologies and commemorations can become a moral traffic light — that is, we get a red light because there is as stolen generation. So the apology is delivered, the light goes green and we dust off our hands saying ‘job done’ and walk on, despite not really having done anything. The apology was the start of the work, not the end.

By their nature, apologies involve three things: an expression of regret, an acknowledgement of consequence (pain, loss, etc.) and a commitment that the act in question not happen again. Whether you are dealing with a child who has painted the dog or a defendant pleading guilty to a serious offence, those elements do not change.

In essence, it is the last of those elements that drives us to commemorate the apology, because it refocusses us on that goal, to prevent this happening again — to make what will be, better than what has been. In commemorating this, I ask everybody that you not focus too much on the giving of the apology — it’s been done, after all — but have a think about what you have done, and can do, to give effect to the apology.

On a lighter note, in my never-ending quest to celebrate the New Year for as long as possible, I will be attending the Gold Coast DLA New Year’s drinks this evening (13 February). I would like to encourage all Gold Coast practitioners (and any from other regions who feel like popping down to paradise for the night!) to get along and spend some time with your colleagues from the glitter strip. 2019 will be a big year, so it won’t hurt to start it in style!

Bill Potts, QLS President

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