Yesterday was the anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations yet, more than a decade on, survivors in Victoria are still waiting for an offer of redress from the only state yet to pay compensation.
Most recently, former Greens member for Northcote Lidia Thorpe called for a state compensation scheme, which then-minister for Aboriginal Affairs Natalie Hutchins side-stepped, instead pledging support for a national compensation scheme which is likely to never eventuate. So, what exactly is going on and how long will survivors need to wait?
An issue for the states
While not forfeiting the moral liability of the Commonwealth, until the 1967 referendum Aboriginal affairs were the legislative domain of the state. As such, any child removal policies were enacted and enforced through the state legislature.
In Victoria this dates back to 1869, when the first of many acts directing Aboriginal child removals was legislated. Such removals continued well into the latter half of the 20th century, affecting multiple generations. The fact that Aboriginal children in Victoria continue to be removed at around 12 times the rate of non-Aboriginal children remains testament to the ongoing impacts of the original removals.
Notably, in 1997, the Victorian government — under then-premier Jeff Kennett — was the first to offer an official apology not long after the controversial Bringing Them Home report was tabled in federal parliament. But since then the response to ongoing calls for redress have been ignored in favour of service delivery directed towards “journeys of healing” for the Stolen Generations. While such services may provide assistance to survivors of traumatic assimilation policies, it could be argued that this simply fulfils an innate right of Australia’s citizens to good health, and in no way addresses the unresolved moral and legal issue of historical child removals.
Beginning with Tasmania in 2008, each state has — in some form — provided an offer of compensation and redress to the Stolen Generations, most recently by New South Wales. These schemes have not avoided criticism, and have been buttressed by civil litigation claims, but such examples provide a basis for the Victorian government to establish a scheme that learns from its predecessors.
Not only would a comprehensive compensation and redress scheme right a moral wrong, it would assist survivors of the Stolen Generations financially, in what has proven to be a cohort of Australians that suffers from acute poverty, ill-health and incarceration rates.
Stolen Generations today
A 2018 survey of the Stolen Generations found that “half live with a disability or chronic health condition, 70% rely on welfare and are more than three times as likely to have been jailed in the last five years compared to other Indigenous Australians”.
While the Victorian government may be working towards a treaty with Victoria’s Aboriginal communities, this process arguably excludes survivors of the Stolen Generations — many of whom have had their traditional ties to country and community stripped away by the process of removal and assimilation.
Again, this provides a rationale for an inclusive and responsive approach to self-determination which includes the provision of redress and compensation. A lack of action here raises the question raised by Lidia Thorpe on the steps of Parliament last year: “Are we waiting for our people to die off?”
Not only would compensation assist those people living in poverty, but an accompanying “truth-telling” forum — such as a Truth and Justice Commission — would contribute to the ongoing reconciliation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and provide a means for the Stolen Generations to tell their stories to the wider public.
If the Daniel Andrews government is serious about its commitment to self-determination, then a compensation scheme that supports Aboriginal people’s financial and social independence — as opposed to a welfare “healing” model — should be a top priority.