Labor's forgotten apology
Despite all the theatre, Labor still has some serious apologising to do to aborigines. Rudd has essentially apologised for past cases of what governments are still doing to this very day. Kids are still being removed from their parents when the lawful authorities deem a child is at risk. And these are the same legal principles that applied in the past. In fact, the apology for past lawful actions was just a smokescreen for a far more pressing obligation for an apology from the Labor leader for the unlawful acts of one of their own.
For it was the Labor Party in particular that spent two decades sending a clear but unofficial message to Northern Territorians that child sex offenders not only had friends in very high places, they actually held the position of Minister in the cabinet of Hawke and Keating.
The Coroners inquest into the death of former NT Senator Bob Collins made it clear that justice for a number of victims of child sex offences over 25 years has been cheated by suicide. No-one is saying that anyone in Cabinet knew of, or condoned, the actions of the man who sat amongst them. But it is highly probable that party members in the vicinity knew, or were aware of the possibility of offences, but took no action.
Readers may recall that ArchBishop Peter Hollingsworth was hounded from the position of Governor General for his past failure to respond in a way that is currently regarded as appropriate for dealing with a person in his organisation that had committed sex offences. But the left, and the same partisan media that took such an interest in Hollingsworth's propriety, has conspicuously failed to ask, who else in the Labor Party was aware of Collin's form? When did they find out? And was their response appropriate for a person in the position they now occupy?
Curiously, none of that same media pack has bothered to investigate the substantial role Collins must have played in shaping both policy and public perceptions of indigenous issues. He was after all, a Senior Minister, the Senator for the Northern Territory, was elected by a large indigenous vote, and he was related by marriage to the indigenous community. Who, in fact, could possibly NOT defer to his views in these circumstances?
It seems no minor coincidence that more than two decades of Labor led debate on indigenous issues could have an almost ritualistic focus on land rights and past lawful actions of lawful authorities while the far more immediate and pressing issues of health, alcohol and associated physical and sexual abuse rarely got a mention. What role did Collins play in downplaying the actual reasons why children were taken? Is this merely a case of serious policy neglect? Or has a powerful criminal been able to intervene to make it criminal neglect?
It is also worth noting the underlying ALP culture in which Collins was part. A large measure of the so-called "Larikin" appeal of then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, was his drinking to excess and womanising. He deserves the greatest respect for the way he overcame the former once he took on the office of PM, but there is no denying that sex and alcohol was a central attribute of 1960s and 70s 'radical chic'. Former First Lady, Hazel, may have had a different perspective.
I can also recall being informed some time ago by very well placed Queensland ALP sources that almost everyone of any influence in the party at the time was painfully aware that they had a 'freak show' on their hands when Keith Wright was elected to Qld parliamentary leader. His form was obvious, and clearly accepted (albeit with reservations) long before he served time for sexual offences.
And the less said about the NSW Labor Party the better.
In the Northern Territory it is worth reflecting that this corporate culture was in a context where most aboriginal women above legal age were either having, or had already had, children. So at party time, they were generally distracted, to varying degrees, by sole parenting duties. And by default, sexually available women were, almost by definition, characterised by a higher proportion of under age girls.
In light of this, it can now be seen as entirely appropriate that the one Prime Minister, John Howard, who did not attend the recent parliamentary circus was the one under whose leadership the very issues that justified both the past and present removal of children from harm, were finally brought out into the open. He was the one former Prime Minister who had the least to apologise for.
In contrast, the very fact of Prime Minister Hawke's former excesses must have served as a significant brake on any public position, or campaign focus on alcohol and all the associated sexual and domestic abuse issues for the best part of two decades.
And in this context, there is no doubt that every picture, image or report involving Collins sent a separate, entirely sinister, message to his victims, their families, and anyone else who had heard the whispers, that his power was sufficient to negate their rights as victims. Every image of Collins with his cabinet colleagues, with his leaders, Hawke and Keating, and with the Chief Minister, local members and community leaders, reinforced the victim's perception of the extent of the perpetrator's power.
And like it or not, every one of the people seen with Collins has inadvertently contributed to the despair of the victims. They are not personally responsible for their actions that, after all, were done in utmost good faith. But each of them has a moral duty to convey their profoundest regrets to those who's suffering was exacerbated by the context of power that they provided to a criminal.
And like it or not, the people seen with Collins know that every other victim of abuse now knows there was an abuser in one of the most powerful positions in the land. And like it or not, every other sexual abuser now has an excuse to rationalise their actions as some “minor failing” of the mighty.
This obligation to apologise cannot be passed off to the parliament or the broader community. It belongs solely with the ALP. The positions, the power and the opportunities that Collins exploited for so long, were all provided by the Australian Labor Party.
So if there is to be an apology to Collin's victims and all the others, as there must, then it must come from the entire membership of the Australian Labor Party.
And if there is to be compensation to his victims, as there must, then it should rightfully come from the entire membership of the Australian Labor Party.
Anything less than a full commission of inquiry will not do. They cannot be allowed to let this slip away quietly as the sordid catch phrase of the sexual offender, "their little secret".