Thursday, August 02, 2007

Compensation for the stolen generation?

Between 1915 1869 and 1969, the Australian state and federal governments took over 100,000 aboriginal children from their parents and raised them in orphanages or adopted them out to white families in the hope that, by doing so, they could "breed out" their "inferior" genes and exterminate Australia's indigenous people. This Stolen Generation was a serious crime against humanity, an act of attempted genocide the Australian government still has not apologised for. But now, one of those taken has succeeded in winning compensation through the courts, winning $525,000 from the South Australian government for their role in unlawfully kidnapping him as a baby and the subsequent effects of the kidnapping on his life.

This is good news, and worth celebrating, but sadly I don't think it raises the prospect of victims of the stolen generation being able to pursue similar claims. In order to find wrongdoing and award compensation, the courts need to find some evidence of illegality. The government had behaved illegally in Mr Trevorrow's case, falsely imprisoning him and adopting him out without he permission of his parents. But what's scary about the Stolen Generation is that the vast majority of seperations and forced adoptions were entirely legal, carried out under state laws designed to assimilate and thereby slowly exterminate aboriginal culture. The courts are helpless in the face of such abuse of the law. Instead, the only way widespread compensation will be gained is through a political process - and that would first require white Australia to accept that what happened was wrong. Given that racism towards Aborigines is still fairly well embedded in Australian culture, I sadly don't see that happening any time soon.

Correction: Date changed. The Victorian State Government passed its first Aboriginal protection Act in 1869. Meanwhile, now I have to resist the temptation to read Che's entire thesis...