“We apologise to the Stolen Generation” – it’s pretty simple stuff and not exactly rocket science, unless you try to make it complicated.

The new Opposition, under the leadership of Nick Minch … sorry, Brendan Nelson, have demonstrated that over the last few months they are not a group to take simplicity lightly. So what would such an ordinarily simple apology look like if the Coalition had to write it?

Well for starters, the word “stolen” doesn’t technically describe the reality of the situation according to Tony Abbott:

Some kids were stolen, but some were rescued and some kids were helped, so you have to be true to the real history of our country, not to a fanciful history of our country.

Brendan Nelson believes that “forcibly removed generations” is more accurate, while professional contrarian Dennis Jensen tells us that “I think separated is probably a better word than stolen, personally”.

Ian Macfarlane, in his contribution to reconciliation reckons that: “Some of these children were not stolen from their parents, they were taken by church groups and welfare groups in the belief that these children needed to be looked after”.

These aren’t merely simple definitional quibbles – they are the pursuit of accuracy over the meaning of the word “stolen” and would surely need to be taken into consideration for the wording of any apology. Sadly missing from the field, however, is amateur semanticist Senator John Herron now that he has so unfortunately retired. His contribution to specificity with his ground breaking work on whether 10% of people constitutes a “generation” should continue to be recognised in the Liberal intellectual pantheon.

The other part of that very simple statement is, of course, “We apologise”.

Here too, the Coalition believes that we ought not to let the allure of simplicity stand in the way of definitiveness. Brendan Nelson thinks that “In my view we have no responsibility to apologise or take ownership for what was done by earlier generations”, and that, “I have great difficulty with the idea of intergenerational responsibility for the good or not-so-good things done in the past”.

Senator Stephen Parry appreciates that “we should acknowledge what has happened, feel sympathy for what has happened, but we can’t take full responsibility for something that has happened well before we were born.”

While not to be outdone, Senator John Watson professes that “There is a possibility that some of the genuine people could feel a little bit hurt when they did it with the best of motives. Many are still alive in northern Tasmania, some of them are friends of mine”.

So how would the two versions of the apology stack up? On the one hand we would have the Coalition version:

We acknowledge and sympathise with, whilst not being able to take full intergenerational responsibility for, those Aboriginal people of the forcibly removed group of individuals that may or may not be accurately described as a generation, whilst simultaneously recognising that many members of this group of separated Aboriginal people were actually helped, rescued or otherwise looked after by the well meaning church and welfare bodies at the time, including the genuine people that participated in these organisations with the absolute best of motives.

Or the alternative:

We apologise to the Stolen Generation.

It’s quite obvious which one would do the job.

So despair not dear reader, WA Liberal Judith Adams reassures us that should the proposed government apology not meet the Opposition’s high expectations for accuracy, the Coalition will head back into the bunker once more and “…have another party room meeting and discuss it again because I’m sure it has to be right for us to go along with it”.

Oh the anticipation.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey