The new Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has apologised to Aborigines who were taken from their families under the policy of assimilation. While I’m not in favour of apologies for wrongs committed before living memory, I think this apology is perfectly acceptable. After all, this policy continued into the 1970s and the damage done by it very directly affects the lives of people today.
But as with all these social apologies, there are still some who think it hasn’t gone far enough. Some human rights lawyers want Britain to apologise as well. Since the policy started in the 1880s under colonial rule, which lasted until 1901, they feel the British should bear some of the responsibility. I feel not.
I’m not just concerned that British taxpayers could then be subject to legal claims like Australian taxpayers are about experience. This is not hypothetical or conjectural. One Aborigine, Bruce Trevorrow, won A$525,000 (£220,000) in the South Australian Supreme Court last year after proving he had been treated illegally and with negligence when he was taken from his parents as a baby. Previously, claims such as Trevorrow’s would have been limited because of the lack of a paper trail in many situations. Claims also would not have extended to people generations removed from the actual act of being taken away from their brith family.
The official apology from the Government could create lines of legal causation – proximate cause – that could empty the Australian treasury. I have great sympathy for Trevorrow and the Stolen Generation. I think those who can make claims for themselves should either do so or persuade the Australian to set up a compensation fund. I don’t think the British (or I, as a UK taxpayer) should pay for this too.