Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Compensating the stolen generation

Last year when an aboriginal man succeeded in winning compensation from the South Australian government for being forcibly taken from his parents as a child as part of a plan to assimilate and eradicate his people, I commented that any real compensation for the Stolen Generation would have to come through a political process - something I didn't view as particularly likely, given the pervasive racism of Australian society and its deep level of denial about its crimes against its indigenous people. But it turns out I was wrong - Tasmania's state government had already established a compensation fund for the Stolen Generation back in 2006. And sometime this week, they'll finally be paying out to the 106 people found to be eligible for compensation.

The amount of money received - AU$58,000 - is much lower than that gained by Bruce Trevorrow through legal action. OTOH, the reason Trevorrow was successful was because the South Australian government had behaved illegally - which was the exception rather than the rule. The horrifying thing about the Stolen generation was that this policy of slow genocide by separation was generally conducted entirely legally, and thus it is not something the courts can really do anything about. Tasmania's offer of compensation sidesteps that problem. More importantly, it acknowledges that what the government did was wrong - the first step to real reconciliation.

I'm now waiting to see if any of the other Australian states follow Tasmania's lead on this. But I'm not exactly holding my breath.