On the significance of saying “sorry” – politics of memory and Aboriginal Reconciliation in Australia

Isabelle Auguste


2007 marked the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum. Back on May 27th 1967, more than 90% of Australian eligible voters said “yes’ to two changes of the Australian Constitution considered discriminatory to Aboriginal people. This event is often considered as the first stage of Reconciliation in Australia. 2007 also marked the 10th Anniversary of the release of the Bringing Them Home Report that highlighted the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their family as part of an assimilation policy. From 1997, the issue of an apology became a sine qua non condition to Reconciliation. It was an important element of the recommendations the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation submitted to Parliament in 2000. But, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, in office for more than ten years, refused to say the word “sorry” on the basis that Australians of today are not responsible for the actions of the past and that guilt is not hereditary. His focus was on what is called “practical reconciliation”. Some changes are now on the way as Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, who defeated him at the last federal election in November 24th 2007, has promised to make a formal apology to the stolen generation. Why is it important to say “sorry”? At a time of dramatic developments in Indigenous Affairs, this paper deals with the significance of an apology for Reconciliation in Australia.


indigenous people; Australia; apology; reconciliation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1344/co2009343-50


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