25 SEPTEMBER 2020
Former Australian Prime Minister and president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, Kevin Rudd joins me now. Prime Minister, I remember this, this well, you know, it was it was back in, you know, 2008, when you did something that was historic, you presented an apology to Indigenous Australians for past wrongs. 12 years later, this is happening, or what what has changed in Australia in relation to how Aboriginals are treated?
Well, the Apology in 2008, helped turn a page in the recognition by white Australia, about the level of mistreatment of black Australia over the previous couple of hundred years. And some progress has been made in closing the gap in some areas of health and education between indigenous and non Indigenous Australians. But when you see actions, like we’ve just seen with Rio Tinto, in this willful destruction of a 46,000 year old archaeological site, which even their own internal archaeological advisors said, was a major site of archaeological significance in Australia, you scratch your head, and can only conclude that Rio Tinto really do see themselves as above and beyond government, and above and beyond the public interests shared by all Australians.
And we heard in Angus’ report, you know, that some of these sites the notion of destroying some of these sites for coal mine or whatever, you know, that it’s like destroying a war cemetery to indigenous people? Why are indigenous voices not being heard the way they should be? And, you know, let’s be honest coal, that’s not going to be a thing in 20-30 years, and meanwhile, you destroy something that’s been there for 30,000 years. Why aren’t they being heard?
Well, you’re right to pose the question, because when I was Prime Minister, I began by acknowledging indigenous people8/7
* of this country as the oldest continuing culture on Earth. That is not a small statement. It’s a very large state now, but it’s also an historical and pre historical fact. And therefore, when we look at the architectural and the archaeological legacy of indigenous settlement in this country, we have a unique global responsibility to act responsibly. I can only put down this buccaneer cavalier attitude to the corporate arrogance of Rio Tinto and one or two of the other major mining companies that I have a very skeptical view of BHP Billiton in this respect, and their attitude to Indigenous Australians, but also a very comfortable, far too comfortable relationship with the conservative federal government of Australia, which replaced my government. Which, as you’ve just demonstrated, through one of the decisions made by their environment minister, are quite happy to allow indigenous interests and archaeological significance to take a back place.
Yeah, as I said, I remember 2008 well, when that apology was made. It was such a significant moment for Australia and Australians. I mean, I haven’t lived in Australia for 25 years, but you know, have have attitudes changed in recent years in Australia, or changed enough when it comes to these sorts of national treasures and appreciation of them? Has white Australia altered its view of Aboriginals Aboriginal heritage enough.
I think the National Apology and the broader processes of reconciliation in this country, which my government took forward from 2008 onwards, have a continuing effect on the whole country, including white Australians. And what is my evidence of that? The evidence is that when Rio Tinto in their monumental arrogance, thought they could just slide through by blowing this 46,000 year old archaeologically, significant ancient caves to bits. Even let me call it, white Australia, turned around and said, this is just a bridge too far. Even conservative members of parliament in a relevant parliamentary inquiry, scratch their head and said this is just beyond the pale. And so if you want evidence of the fact that underlying community attitudes have changed, and political attitudes have changed, that’s it. But we still have a buccaneer approach on the part of Rio Tinto, who I think not just in Australia, but globally have demonstrated a level of arrogance to elected democratic governments around the world whereby Rio Tinto thinks it’s up here, and the elected governments and the norms of the societies in which they operate it down here, Rio Tinto has a major challenge. itself, as do other big miners like BHP Billiton, which has to understand that they are dealing with the people’s resource. And they are working within a framework of laws, which places an absolute priority on the centrality of the indigenous heritage of all these countries including Australia.