What’s the difference between an apologist and an apologizer? Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is both. He’s an unabashed Christian who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and is a ease with the convictions of his faith (a Christian apologist).
But Rudd is also leading the world in modeling political apologies as a way of healing the souls of nations. In February 2008, he publicly expressed regret, remorse, and sorrow for the way Australia as a nation had injured and wronged the aboriginal community.
This week, Rudd publically apologized to the generations of Forgotten Australians and former child migrants who were taken from their families and kept in government institutions often under terrible conditions. Read the text of his speech below.
“As children, many of us experienced horrors in the places that were supposed to care for us: serious and often criminal physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect and assault,” said Caroline Carroll from the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. “As adult survivors, we need acknowledgment of, and an apology for, the harm that was done to us.”
In Donald Shriver’s 1998 book An Ethic for Enemies: The Politics of Forgiveness, Shriver defines forgiveness as a moral concept that is actualized in human relationships. The first level of relationship occurs by remembering the wrongs conducted, taking a moral assessment. Once consensus is built on what wrongs were committed by both parties involved, the second transaction is to discuss and enact the proper restitution that “should be leveled against the offender.”
Shriver makes clear that whatever restitution means, it must mean “the abandonment of vengeance” or “forbearance”, to stop the cycle of violence. The third level of relationship is one of empathy for the enemy’s humanity. Finally, the relationship between former enemies is renewed through the fourth transaction as a “civil relationship between strangers.”
I’d call what Rudd is doing in Australia as an “experiment in Truth,” as Gandhi put it. I find it inspiring to watch unfold.
Rudd’s apology to Forgotten Australians is here:
We come together today to deal with an ugly chapter in our nation’s history. And we come together today to offer our nation’s apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without your consent, that we are sorry. Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry – for the tragedy of childhoods lost – childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work. Sorry – for all these injustices to you as children, who were placed in our care.
As a nation, we must now reflect on those who did not receive proper care. We look back with shame that many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody to whom to turn. We look back with shame that many of these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes – instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly and violated sexually. We look back with shame at how those with power were allowed to abuse those who had none.
And how then, as if this was not injury enough, you were left ill-prepared for life outside – left to fend for yourselves; often unable to read or write; to struggle alone with no friends and no family. For these failures to offer proper care to the powerless, the voiceless and the most vulnerable, we say sorry. We reflect too today on the families who were ripped apart, simply because they had fallen on hard times. Hard times brought about by illness, by death and by poverty. Some simply left destitute when fathers, damaged by war, could no longer cope. Again we say sorry for the extended families you never knew.
We acknowledge the particular pain of children shipped to Australia as child migrants – robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children but regarded instead as a source of child labour. To those of you who were told you were orphans, brought here without your parents’ knowledge or consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers and fathers, and the pain these lies have caused for a lifetime. To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and sisters; taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign land – we acknowledge today the laws of our nation failed you. And for this we are deeply sorry.
We think also today of all the families of these Forgotten Australians and former child migrants who are still grieving, families who were never reunited, families who were never reconciled, families who were lost to one another forever. We reflect too on the burden that is still carried by your own children, your grandchildren, your husbands, your wives, your partners and your friends – and we thank them for the faith, the love and the depth of commitment that has helped see you through the valley of tears that was not of your making. And we reflect with you as well, in sad remembrance, on those who simply could not cope and who took their own lives in absolute despair.
We recognise the pain you have suffered. Pain so personal. Pain so profoundly disabling. So, let us therefore, together, as a nation, allow this apology to begin healing this pain. Healing the pain felt by so many of the half a million of our fellow Australians and those who as children were in our care. And let us also resolve this day, that this national apology becomes a turning point in our nation’s story. A turning point for shattered lives. A turning point for Governments at all levels and of every political colour and hue, to do all in our power to never let this happen again. For the protection of children is the sacred duty of us all.—Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd