AUSTRALIA'S apology to the Stolen Generation should not only use the word "sorry", it should also concede that removing Aboriginal children from their families was "evil" and "cruel" and part of a policy that could not be justified or excused.
This form of wording, taken from a similar apology in Canada, was put to Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin last week by an influential lobby group led by Aboriginal leader Lowitja O'Donoghue and former prime minister Malcolm Fraser.
Details of the meeting emerged yesterday as Ms O'Donoghue backed a push for a $1billion compensation fund to be established for the Stolen Generation, saying an apology without compensation "won't settle anything", while compensation would head off the potential for "a litany of court cases".
While Ms Macklin has said it is more important for the Federal Government to close the 17-year gap in Aboriginal life expectancy and deficiencies in health and education, Ms O'Donoghue said these were statutory obligations and the Stolen Generation of indigenous children removed from their families needed to be separately resolved.
In the first suggestion of a form of words that might be used in the apology, Ms Macklin was asked by the Stolen Generations Alliance, of which Ms O'Donoghue and Mr Fraser are patrons, to consider a 1998 apology by the moderator of the United Church of Canada to children sent into church-run, government-funded Indian Residential Schools.
In the apology, church moderator Bill Phipps referred to a "cruel and ill-conceived system of assimilation", "evil acts" and a "horrendous period in Canadian history".
In November 2005, the Canadian Government announced a $1.9 billion compensation package, with government ministers calling it a "fair and lasting resolution" for "the single most harmful, disgraceful and racist act in our history".
At the meeting last Tuesday with the National Sorry Day Committee, the Stolen Generations Alliance, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Tom Calma and indigenous leader Mick Dodson, Ms Macklin was told there was a difference between the words "sorry" and "apology", with "sorry" holding far more emotional power.
"Some say that 'apology' comes from the head, whereas 'sorry' comes from the heart," she was told.
The Canadian apology was included in a document handed to Ms Macklin by the Stolen Generations Alliance, titled "Some thoughts on how the Prime Minister might say sorry".
It was endorsed yesterday by Ms O'Donoghue and alliance co-chair Christine King, who said it was "absolutely" appropriate to describe Australia's child separation policies as cruel and evil.
It was suggested the apology should be offered to indigenous people "for the policies which removed tens of thousands of their children from their families". It could be given by the Prime Minister on Sorry Day in May next year in the Great Hall of parliament in a ceremony at which members of the stolen generations would speak.
Ms O'Donoghue and Ms King backed a call by Aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansell for a $1billion compensation fund for the Stolen Generation, contributed to by federal and state governments. They said $1 billion was not a large amount to compensate for the damage that was done to thousands of Aboriginal children.
"Aboriginal people will not move on until this matter is resolved," Ms O'Donoghue said. Without compensation, the Government would be faced with "a litany of Trevorrows, a litany of court cases".
In August, South Australia's Supreme Court became the first jurisdiction in the country to recognise the Stolen Generation as a basis for legal compensation, when it found Bruce Trevorrow, now 50, was treated unlawfully and falsely imprisoned when he was removed from his mother's care and handed over to a white family in 1957, aged 13 months. He was awarded $525,000.
Ms King said the Alliance would meet next month to work on a draft apology to put to the Government. Ms O'Donoghue said peak Aboriginal organisations and leaders should be brought into the discussions about the apology.
Asked whether a 10-year-old girl in the Cape York community of Aurukun should have been removed from her family, Ms King said it was "the paramount right of every child to be safe". She said the children of the Stolen Generation were not taken away to save them, but to change them.