Reading 8E: Mick Dodson 1950 -

Mick Dodson

Mick Dodson was born in Katherine, NT, and is the brother of Patrick Dodson (qv). He is a member of the Yawuru peoples of the southern Kimberley region,WA.A lawyer, academic and advocate, Dodson worked with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (1976-81) and became a barrister in 1981. He joined the Northern Land Council as senior legal adviser in 1984 and became director of the Council in 1990. He is a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and was a founding director of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, as well as a member and chairman of AIATSIS.

From 1988 to 1990 Dodson was Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and he was Australia's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner with HREOC, serving from 1993 to 1998. In 2003 Dodson was appointed Inaugural Professor of Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University and convenor of its National Centre for Indigenous Studies.

Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature
Edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
Allen and Unwin, 2008


We All Bear the Cost if Apology is Not Made

The Commonwealth Government has finally responded-in part-to the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.While there are some laudable initiatives that will have tangible effects, there exists a matter of much greater significance, which the Government's response fails to grasp.

In its response, the Government fails to appreciate that the way forward for all Australians has as much, if not more, to do with spiritual repair as with material programs.

Australians cannot escape the uncomfortable truth that policies and practices of the past were inherently racist. 'Half-caste' children, and others, were taken from their families for no reason other than the colour of their skin.

Despite the best motivation of the individuals involved in administering these policies, or their belief that what they were doing was in the best interests of the children, the facts remain that the aim was the destruction of a group of people-the Aboriginal people. No amount of welfare or well-modulated phraseology can remove this reality.

The package announced by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, SenatorJohn Herron, focuses principally on the welfare-related recommendations, insultingly dismissing as 'not applicable' the fundamental principle of self-determination. It excludes any indigenous organisation from participating, in any formal way, in the monitoring of government application of the recommendations.

The package omits any attention to fundamental issues of compensation and it excludes the recommendations on training and learning that would ensure schools' curricula include compulsory modules on the history and effects of forcible removal. This flies in the face of the minister's statement that 'we must learn from the past so that we do not allow such circumstances and policies to happen in our community again'. If we don't teach, how can we learn?

Indigenous people repeatedly told the inquiry that an apology would make an enormous difference to their ability to overcome the traumas they have suffered. Without an expression of real regret evidenced by a national parliamentary apology the package is fundamentally flawed.

The justifications for refusing to offer an apology are spurious straw clutching. There is no legal impediment to stop such an initiative. Further, the Government's argument that a national apology is untenable, given the large proportion of Australians who have arrived in the past 20 years, is fallacious and does not reflect the views of many Australians.

Today's Australians are not being asked to accept individual guilt, but collective responsibility. Ethnic communities have offered their apologies to indigenous people. Their mood is captured in the remark of Mr Randolph Alwis, the chairman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia, who recently said that 'we are part of the current society and society is a continuum. Anything we can do to help the reconciliation process, we will do.'

Above all, the Government's refusal to apologise stands in sharp contrast to the plethora of formal apologies from parliaments around Australia, churches, community groups, ethnic organisations, schools, local governments, unions, leading non-government organisations, and the thousands of individual Australians who have signed petitions, written letters and declared their sorrow. Indeed, these groups, and many individual Australians, have felt compelled to make it clear that they directly endorse the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's recommendation that there be a national apology. The Government also has reasserted its rejection of indigenous people's right to compensation.

The Government made it clear in its initial submission to the inquiry that it did not consider compensation appropriate. The national inquiry considered this, along with a wealth of expert advice, and concluded that an essential component of reparation for past wrongs was monetary compensation.

It is regrettable that the Government's view has not changed. An absence of any statutory compensation fund is already resulting in recourse to the courts at significant legal cost to taxpayers and potentially significant compensation payments.

However, there are some positive initiatives. In targeting health, counselling services and family reunion, the Government shows that it appreciates the long term impact of removing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, on the wellbeing of those families and communities.

Programs to expand indigenous link-up programs will provide much needed practical support for the bringing together of families torn apart by past government policies. The provision of more than $39 million to enhance counselling and mental health services for people affected by separation also will help.

Aboriginal people know what it means to be poor-and know that material assistance is not irrelevant. But we also know it is not material wealth that makes a family. If there is a lesson to be learned from our families being broken apart, it is about love, understanding, and the seeking and giving of forgiveness.

These are values that could make an Australian family of all people within this country. Many know this. The Commonwealth Government's failure to understand has resulted in a failure at the heart of its response. As a consequence, we are all the poorer.


Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature
Edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter
Allen and Unwin, 2008