After we’d had so many positive signals that the community campaign to bridge the gap on Aboriginal life expectancy and primary was getting some traction, the chronic lack of real measures in the budget was a bitter pill to swallow.

So it is even more infuriating that my straightforward and innocuous motion to recognise Sorry Day and acknowledge the tenth anniversary of the Bringing them Home report was blocked by the Government in the Senate. There was none of the usual to and fro with the Minister’s office to see if we’d alter a word here and there to make it more palatable — all we got was a flat ‘no’.

It seems that Howard still chokes up on the S-word.

Here’s the motion:

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (10.03 am) — I, and also on behalf of Senator Bartlett, move the motion as amended:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

(i) 26 May 2007 is the 10th anniversary of the tabling in the Senate of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report, Bringing them home: National inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, and

(ii) as recommended in the report, the Senate recognises that 26 May is National Sorry Day, a day of remembrance each year to commemorate the history of forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and its effects on individuals, families and communities;

(b) acknowledges the efforts to implement the report’s recommendations on support for services to reunite Indigenous family members, such as Link-Up’s counselling support and tracing services, while recognising that the unmet need for these services is still unacceptably large; and

(c) notes:

(i) the release yesterday of the Urbis Keys Young Bringing them home evaluation report, which documents the outstanding work being done by Link-Up services and bringing them home counsellors, and highlights their positive outcomes and high rates of client satisfaction along with their inordinately heavy case loads and high rates of burnout, and

(ii) there remains a need for full implementation of the report’s recommendations in order to provide healing and make reparations to Indigenous people removed from their families.

And the response:

The inquiry into the removal of children that led to the Bringing them Home report had a massive impact on the community, opening many deep wounds that the following decade under Howard has done little to heal.

The momentum from the report did however lead to the establishment of some very effective community services — the Link Up programs and Bringing them Home counsellors that the Urbis Keys Young report released on Wednesday looked into. They reported high levels of client satisfaction and positive outcomes — along with very heavy caseloads and a high burnout rate from what is a very stressful and emotionally demanding job.

Now, we’ve heard time and again from governments how difficult it is to build effective service delivery programs for Aboriginal communities. Tony Abbott recently responded to a WHO report that put Australia at the very bottom of the developed world on indigenous health by saying … “If it were easy to tackle it would have been tackled a long time ago.” [1 May SMH]

You’d think that rather than throwing his hands in the air and proclaiming that its all too hard, the Minister would look at these reports and say: “…Here’s an incredibly successful program that’s under-resourced, why don’t I build it up a little?”

Meanwhile another Sorry Day will come and go with the wounds largely unhealed.

If the PM were to cough up a squeaky little ‘…err, sorry’ after a decade of running Aboriginal affairs into the ground it would mean very little.

I think we’d all question his sincerity … and the public, let alone the Aboriginal community, simply wouldn’t swallow it.