Big Issues

Sorry Isn’t Enough. It Never Was

National Apology Day kevin rudd

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Sixteen years ago Kevin Rudd addressed the nation and apologised to the families and survivors of the Stolen Generations who were forcibly removed from their families as per government policy. At the time it was monumental but almost two decades later, sorry just isn’t enough

Even as a young child, the National Apology felt like a big deal. That was before I understood the full impact of what it meant. For many, it brought some hope that things would finally move forward. The healing process would begin. So why does it feel like nothing’s changed 16 years later? 

Every year when National Apology Day and Sorry Day rolls around we hear politicians lament the pain and suffering Indigenous children went through at the hands of several governments. At the same time, little is done to actually make meaningful, tangible change in the lives of Indigenous people. This year is no different. As Labor politicians speak about the significance of the Apology and tell our communities that they’re committed to helping us we’re still the most incarcerated people on earth. They still open new gas and coal mines and wells on Indigenous land. They still ignore Gomeroi calls to stop Santos from drilling in the Pilliga. They still haven’t implemented all of the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody — 559 Indigenous people have died since the 1991 report. They still haven’t addressed the vast mental health gap in First Nations Peoples — suicide accounted for 4.6 percent of all deaths of our people (compared to 1.6 percent of non-Indigenous peoples) and it’s the leading cause of death for mob aged 15 to 44. They apologise for the past Stolen Generation while a silent one continues

How am I supposed to believe Anthony Albanese is listening to us when he constantly ignores us? When he wears a Rio Tinto shirt after they blow up sacred sites or fails to address the harm climate change is causing in the Torres Strait? Or how his government tried to introduce Intervention era policies like alcohol bans and cashless cards in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. He is the same man who went on about caring for Indigenous people and needing a Voice to Parliament, which was never good enough, to refusing to implement a treaty. Sorry loses its power the second it leaves your mouth if you don’t follow it up with action. 

Now we hear that the Closing the Gap will fail unless genuine action is taken. Perhaps that’s because its white goalposts are constantly being shifted at the expense of Indigenous people. It was never going to work if the government wasn’t prepared to meet us halfway or at the very least understand our culture. We learn from Country, from our Elders and from Dreaming but that doesn’t matter to Closing the Gap reports. Narratives of deficit and defeat are strengthened by governments who fail to properly address the inequalities Indigenous people in this country face and then shift blame onto them. 

In a post-referendum Australia, I feel even less hopeful that we will see these promises fulfilled. Whatever tiny piece of trust I had in the government and the Australian public was torn to shreds as soon as the ‘No’ vote rolled in. We went through so much pain during the Voice referendum and we’ve been left healing our own scars, as always. 

The only Opposition frontbencher who skipped the Sorry speech was Peter Dutton, the man who very well may become the next Prime Minister of Australia. Tell me again that I’m supposed to have hope. How can we not look at this country with disgust and despair? It’s not enough to tell us that you’re sorry. We’ve told you before and we’ll continue to tell you, sorry means you don’t do it again.

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and writer at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image: Getty