You have to credit Australians’ amazing capacity to turn things into a p-ss-up. The apology to the Stolen Generations on Wednesday is already turning into a sort of National White Guilt Day, with live coverage, big screens being set up outdoors, BBQs and dancing, classes being stopped and demands for a public holiday.

If we’re lucky we might even see some Channel Nine memorabilia, limited edition collectibles that would look great in any home bar or games room.

No wonder Lord Howard of Wollstonecraft, as apparently he will shortly be dubbed, has checked his dairy and found he can’t quite make it to Canberra this week. Perhaps the ABC can produce John Howard the actor to fill in again, because that was SO hilarious when The Games did it.

There are some other recalcitrants. Keith Windschuttle is still arguing that no-one was stolen. He also says that the apology is a Government stunt, and for once in his life, he might be in danger of having a point. In ruling out compensation, the Government indeed appears to be simply picking out the more convenient parts of the Bringing Them Home report rather than accepting its logic.

Not that the Government is alone in hoping an apology will let it “move on”. One wonders if many Australians see an apology as not the beginning of reconciliation but the end, as the final task that will allow them to not have to bother thinking about indigenous Australians any more. Having walked across Kevin Rudd’s “bridge of respect”, a lot of Australians might want to just keep on walking.

Commendably, rather than bask in the adoring glow of white liberals, the Prime Minister has today admitted that Aboriginal life expectancy and infant mortality is an obscenity and must be addressed as soon as possible. This is exactly right. Aboriginal Australians not merely have significantly poorer health than other Australians, but indigenous health outcomes have even declined relative to indigenous groups in other countries. If this occurred among any other community in the country, the demands for action and accountability, and angry tabloid headlines, would rightly be never-ending.

Plenty of other politicians have sworn to do something about Aboriginal health, and things have only gone backwards. If white Australians want to turn their “sorry” fixation into something useful, perhaps they can keep the pressure on Rudd and his State and Territory counterparts to actually make some headway on improving Aboriginal life expectancy and infant mortality. But one fears the national desire to “move on” may mean that Aboriginal health will continue to remain at the margins of public life.

Peter Fray

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