It was National Sorry Day on Friday last week, and the indigenous round of AFL football. Why the interest in a ‘Sorry Day’?
Following are my own reflections and opinions. The point of sharing my thoughts is simply to ask the question: ‘How can we as individuals and as a nation, reflect God’s love?’
To help with context, I write with the authority of an Australian citizen, and with the proud sensitivity of a brother-in-law, to a much loved, indigenous member of my family. I am personally, and gratefully connected into our nation’s Aboriginal community. Legal insights relating to Australia’s history were drawn from one of my legal texts: Laying Down the Law (6th Ed., 2005).
Children made in God’s image.
In my last Newsletter input, I emphasised the significance of basic beliefs. It was specific to the value of a child. All staff at SCBC hold the belief that children are made in the image of God. SCBC is a Christian community and we take our reference point from the Bible. Over centuries, Christian beliefs have shaped and formed our Australian society. The Bible has given significant guidance to our laws and culture. One of the Bible’s best known teachings is that of the ‘Golden Rule’: ‘Love your neighbour’.
When studying Law, I became very interested in Torts. Forgive me for sounding ‘legal’. Please bear with me, as the following understanding will be helpful. A ‘tort’ is a civil (not criminal) wrong. If a wrong is proved, typically justice is decided in the form of financial compensation. Negligence is an example within Torts Law. Someone (or organisation) does something lawfully wrong, and, if on the balance of probabilities it is proven to be true, compensation is awarded, typically in the form of money.
This is a helpful backdrop of information to help understand the significance of Sorry Day. It was Australia’s National Sorry Day. You can read about the significance at http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/sorry-day-stolen-generations
You most likely will remember a famous Parliamentary speech made by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Hon Kevin Rudd, on the 13th February 2008. Below is a brief extract. You can read the full statement at http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people/apology-to-australias-indigenous-peoples
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry … ”
Could we have avoided the pain caused to our Aboriginal community?
The significance of sharing an insight to Torts Law is that in the Tort of ‘Negligence’, the biblical principle of ‘loving your neighbour’ underpins the very law itself. Negligence asks the question: “Who is my neighbour?” If it can be established that I have a responsibility to care for my neighbour, then a legal wrongdoing can be established if my lack of care has resulted in an injury my neighbour.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that there were at least 2 important ‘rules’ (laws) in the Bible. They are in order of priority:
- ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30)
- ‘The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12:31)
Recognising the above referenced facts (see web references) speak for themselves, my interest is to ask the question: “Could we have avoided the past pain caused to our Aboriginal community?” I’m also interested in the question: “How can we negate harm in the future?”
Quick history lesson … England was invaded and Australia was colonised.
William, the Duke of Normandy invaded and conquered England in 1066. After slaying England’s King Harold at the battle of Hastings, he declared that the old system of Anglo-Saxton rules would remain in force. Over time, he enabled the existing laws (based upon local customs) to become more commonly known. Hence the emergence of ‘common law’. England developed the Common Law. England’s Common Law was transplanted into Australian soil by British settlers in Sydney Cove on 26th January, 1788.
How could the English impose their law when Aboriginal families had been living in Australia for approximately 40,000 years?
Traditionally, International Law recognised 3 ways for a country to acquire new territory: ‘conquest’, ‘cession’ (giving up sovereignty/power over your land to another country), and ‘settlement’. Here’s the rub. At the time an English flag was stuck into the sand of Sydney Cove, the justification used was that Australia was being ‘settled’ by the new ‘owners’ (English). Said in a legal way, the English Law doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ was declared.
Mabo changed our understanding of what really happened.
Eddie Mabo challenged the legal correctness of ‘terra nullius’. Using the English Law, he was assisted to prove that Australia was inhabited at the time that the British used International Law to declare his land in Australia was actually inhabited and owned by Aboriginals. When the British arrived in Sydney, International Law used ‘settlement’ as a legal reasoning for declaring the land was not inhabited by civilised people. Eddie Mabo challenged this fundamental assumption. The High Court of Australia agreed, and the concept of land rights gained significant legal momentum. The High Court decision signalled the Australian community was increasingly recognising the significance and importance of Aboriginal culture.
‘How can we as individuals and as a nation, reflect God’s love; to each other, especially our indigenous community?’
Jesus Christ said we should love our neighbour. In Torts Law (e.g. Duty of Care), the fundamental question is asked: “Who is your neighbour?”. What are your thoughts? For me, it includes the people that I share life with; at home, in work, and in community. The Bible calls us to love. ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7).
On the 13th February 2008, the Prime Minister said sorry for the past. We can’t change our countries history, but we can shape our nation’s future with love. At SCBC, we believe we are all made in the image of God.