Australia to commemorate tenth anniversary of national apology

Fiona Hughes.
Fiona Hughes.

In the lead up to last month’s Australia Day celebrations, the Social Research Centre conducted a survey where people were asked to nominate 10 historic events that have had the greatest impact on the country.

After last year’s same-sex marriage decision and the September 11 terror attacks, the 2008 apology to Indigenous Australians was identified as next most significant event in the nation’s history. 

Tuesday marks 10 years since then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said sorry to members of the Stolen Generation in Parliament, referring to the mistreatment of Aboriginal children as “a blemish in our nation’s history.”

Reconciliation executive director Fiona Hughes remembers the words well, having been involved with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Council at the time .

She said the positive intentions behind the gesture remain, even if there is work to be done on the national reconciliation front.

“At the time, I thought it was good somebody actually stood up and made that acknowledgement,” she said.

“You couldn’t have asked for any more than that.”

The apology was preceded with the Council of Australian Governments committing to 'close the gap' in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians at the end of 2007.

In March 2008,  The Indigenous health equality summit statement of intent was signed in Canberra, aiming to “achieve equality in health status and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by the year 2030.”

The tenth Close The Gap report was released last week, indicating only one of seven targets – the rate of attaining year 12 schooling – remains on track to be achieved.

According to the most recent life expectancy figures, the lives of Indigenous men are 10.6 years shorter than for their non-Indigenous counterparts. 

Mrs Hughes said more support for Indigenous people was needed if the goals were to be met.

“Ideas such as Close the Gap are necessary, but the delivery of them requires more attention,” she said.

“It’s important we listen to Aboriginal people at a national level about how we can close the gap.

“Without constitutional change that embeds the acknowledgement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, our people can not move forward with reconciliation.”