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Program 0032
August 8, 2000

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: Companies began to sense that ordinary folk around the world felt that the ideals for which the Olympics stand had been betrayed and that there was no great merit in being associated with that tarnished image.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Australia’s dirty secrets.

JASON FIELD: It was basically a policy of forced assimilation. It was also, as found by the national inquiry to be an act of genocide on the basis that there was an intent there that aboriginal people, the aboriginal race, would die off.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The Olympic Games will begin September 15 in Sydney, Australia. However, Olympic bribery and corruption scandals are having a significant impact on the Sydney games as some big money sponsors bail out and fans get steamed over corporate favoritism. Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from the Olympic Village in Sydney.

[sound of a crowd, someone speaking on a public address system]

EHRLICH: Special trains will take hundreds of thousands of fans to the Olympic site in the Sydney suburbs. Then visitors will board special buses for transport to the events. There they’ll be able to purchase a wide variety of Olympic products, according to Olympic’s publicist, Stephen Cook.

STEPHEN COOK: We have a whole range of Sydney 2000 merchandise, ranging from ties, pins, mugs, T-shirts, to even luxury goods such as platters, plates, homeware, lifestyle—it’s probably the most, what would we say—the most diverse range of Olympic’s products to date.

EHRLICH: The Olympics will earn some $41 million just from sales of those mugs and T-shirts. Corporate sponsorships will bring in another $390 million. Before the 1980s Olympic Games were mainly funded by host country governments. But since the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles governments have gone into the dugout while corporations stepped up to the plate. Publicist Stephen Cook.

COOK: Every time we talk about the Games we talk about our sponsors because they are the people who are funding the games. But also sponsors within Australia have done a huge range of activities. A & P, which is our big insurance giant, is looking after the torch relay. And as part of their sponsorship they’ve all got ways in which they can then promote their association with the Games. So whether it’s Coke, or a bank like WestPac, or Fuji, Xerox, or whatever, they all have their ability to associate themselves with the games.

EHRLICH: But this year corporate sponsors are getting nervous. Some declined to put the Olympic five rings in their adds. Reebok has pulled out altogether and IBM has announced it won’t sponsor future Olympics. For the past several years the public has learned the sordid details of how Olympic officials accepted bribes in return for bringing the games to Sydney, Salt Lake, and other cities. Stephen Cook says corporate sponsors are concerned about the declining public image of the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, and the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, or SOCOG.

COOK: I think some of the sponsors were a little bit worried, but in general the IOC allegations of corruption and also some of the events that happened around SOCOG last year, they left the public feeling a little bit disillusioned. But I believe that now that the torch is being lit, that that will start engendering that spirit of, I suppose, excitement.

EHRLICH: But many critics think the corruption scandals won’t be forgotten just because the Olympics torch is wending its way through the Australian Outback. Simon Longstaff, who heads the St. James Ethics Center in Sydney, has been a consultant to the International Olympics Committee on ethics issues.

SIMON LONGSTAFF: Companies began to sense that ordinary folk around the world felt that the ideals for which the Olympics stand had been betrayed and that there was no great merit in being associated with that tarnished image. And so they either withdrew permanently, or they refused to commit funds in support of the games, or they stood back and waited.

EHRLICH: Longstaff says Australians resent the profit-grubbing policies of some corporate sponsors.

LONGSTAFF: We’ve seen sponsorship lead to some fairly ridiculous behavior. Here in relation to the Sydney games, in just the last couple of weeks really, the sponsors were insisting at one point that people not be able to take in food to the Olympic venues so that they had to eat presumably that which the sponsors had provided—and probably for an inflated price given the captive market. To the average Australian they would say, “Well, why can’t you take in a little paper bag with you of sandwiches for your kids,” or something like that. Now, is this such a big deal? Is this really going to bring down a corporate titan?

EHRLICH: Olympic officials say they took a lot of unfair criticism on that issue. Michael Bushell, who heads marketing and sales for SOCOG says his organization was just trying to help sponsors make some money. SOCOG was also concerned about how to dispose of all the environmentally unfriendly trash visitors might bring in.

MICHAEL BUSHELL: We have to fund the games. We have to be able to put on a games that are of a standard that the Australian community and the Olympic movement can be proud of. And as a consequence, we need to fund the games in such a way. And sometimes there are restrictions to make sure that we protect not just sponsor rights but environmental issues, because we have been very strong on saying that we are a green games. And obviously if we bring in products that are not environmentally friendly we have to dispose of it.

EHRLICH: If someone brings in food in a non-dangerous container, are they going to be allowed to do that?

BUSCHELL: Yes, I’m not, I’m sure that that will be the case. I mean, at the end of the day we want to have a very happy community. And people have paid a lot of money for their tickets to be there, and we want them to enjoy themselves.

[A couple of lines from a song about the Olympics]

EHRLICH: Ultimately SOCOG changed policy and said it would allow visitors to bring their own food. No sooner was the snack crisis resolved, than Sydney residents learned that various bigwigs, including corporate sponsors, had first dibs on ducats for the most popular sporting events. Corporate hotshots will also have a monopoly on luxury boxes and other special perks, known here as “hospitality.” Mark L’Huillier is an executive with the polling firm Sweeney Research.

MARK L’HUILLIER: I think there’s enormous resentment. There’s been tremendous backlash towards the corporate dollar dominating not only ticket sales, but also the hospitality. And sadly the days have gone whereby the average Australian with a couple of kids can just turn up and get a ticket to an event.

EHRLICH: Olympic officials explain that ordinary Australians will have a chance to buy more tickets during second and third rounds of ticket sales later this year. Then, shortly after the ticket imbroglio, the head of SOCOG took some body blows for allowing his daughter to jump the line and become the first Australian to carry the Olympic torch. He was accused of nepotism. L’Huillier says the controversies are having a cumulative effect.

L’HUILLIER: I think where it’s had an impact particularly is on the way companies are promoting themselves. They haven’t been as prolific in terms of their communication campaigns as yet. What they’re waiting for, I think, is for the tide of public sentiment to change. There’s been quite a backlash against SOCOG, the organizing committee, and some very strong negativity towards the Olympics.

EHRLICH: That hesitation to fully commit to the Olympics, says L’Huillier, shows up in marketing research.

L’HUILLIER: We ask people which Olympic sponsors they’re aware of for the 2000 games. And we don’t pump them with any answers, we don’t give them any other information. And the two that have slipped most noticeably from last year are Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

EHRLICH: L’Huillier says public recognition of sponsorship went from 14 percent to 10 percent for McDonald’s, and dropped from 20 percent to only 5 percent for Coca-Cola. He says some companies are trying to distance themselves from the Olympics. SOCOG’s Michael Bushell disagrees.

BUSHELL: I would suggest that there was a, it was a hiccup in the communication strategies with the consumers.

EHRLICH: Buschell denies corporations are backing away from the Olympics, saying they have just delayed marketing campaigns.

BUSHELL: In reality they were concerned, they were frustrated by these things happening, but it didn’t take away from the fundamental reason why they were involved. And also didn’t greatly impact on the results that they were looking for. It probably just put them back a tad, or impacted on the time line that they probably had projected at the time.

[A couple of lines from a song about the Olympics]

EHRLICH: Observers agree that as the September 15 opening ceremony approaches minor controversies will be forgotten. But the allegations of widespread corruption within the IOC continue to hang over the Olympics. Simon Longstaff says as a consultant to the IOC on ethics issues, he saw how difficult change will be.

LONGSTAFF: Well, it depends a little bit really on whether the International Olympic Committee is able to grasp the nettle and make real and sensible change within the movement. This is a difficult thing to do. If you’ve got a bureaucracy that is rather well entrenched and which has got used to doing things in its own particular way that makes it quite a difficult task for the IOC to really make progress.

EHRLICH: Longstaff says fans could switch their allegiance to other international sporting events unless IOC officials put a stop to bribery and corruption.

L’HUILLIER: I think they probably know that unless they do restore the Olympic games and the Olympic movement back to what it has always been about they risk becoming irrelevant.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Sydney.

MCHUGH: Coming up, Australia’s controversial treatment of its aborigine population.

JEAN CARTER: The loneliness and that, not having that loving contact of your parents, that denial of all that was the most heart-rending.

KEITH PORTER: In May, some 250,000 Australians marched in Sydney to promote reconciliation between whites and Aborigines. But there was controversy when the country’s prime minister refused to apologize for past treatment of Aborigines. Common Ground special correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports that Australians are now learning about a dark underside to the government’s treatment of Aborigines: the separating of Aboriginal children from their parents. He begins the story in La Peruse, a town just south of Sydney.

[Aboriginal music]

EHRLICH: One Sunday morning a teenager plays the diggery do, part of a cultural revival going on among Aboriginal people here in La Peruse. [Ehrlich questions an Aborigine boy] Is that the sound of a kangaroo?



ABORIGINE BOY: And then the second one was a little baby trying to catch up.

EHRLICH: The young man’s father, Laddie Timbery, stopped working for the white man, he says, and now has his own business selling handmade diggeries and boomerangs. He says proudly that his people lived in this area long before Captain John Cook landed nearby and claimed Australia for Britain.

LADDIE TIMBERY: My family watched James Cook and La Peruse come in here. The rock he put his foot on was that same rock my family used to live under for thousands of years.

EHRLICH: That history was soon to change. The British colonialists killed off hundreds of thousands of indigenous people. Today Aborigines number about 400,000 out of a total Australian population of 20 million. And this isn’t just ancient history. From 1910 to 1970 government agencies and church groups took an estimated 100,000 Aboriginal children from their parents, put them in boarding schools, and permanently broke up their families—all in the name of assimilation.

[Australian choir singing an apologetic song about taking Aboriginal children from their parents]

EHRLICH: Back in 1940 most Aboriginal people in La Paruse lived at the mission, where Aborigines were confined like American Indians in their reservations. Born in 1932, Jean Carter grew up in La Paruse with her mother and father. Today she works for the charitable group, World Vision.

JEAN CARTER: We lived in the outskirts of the Aboriginal reserve at La Paruse. And ’cause just in a little tin shack. As were the other families that were struggling at that time. English families, all different, some migrant families, all, we all lived in the same sort of area.

EHRLICH: One day she came home from school to find a shiny, black welfare agency car parked in front of the family home.

CARTER: When we came home in the afternoon, we weren’t allowed to walk in our house. When I got to the door I could hear Mum saying, “Now just give me some time. I need time.” Pleading with them to just give her some time. And I didn’t realize what was happening until they started to drag us down the hill and put us in this car. And we were all crying and crying out to Mum because we knew something horrible was happening. ‘Cause Mum was so distressed and crying, and Bud was ripped from her arms.

EHRLICH: The eight-year-old Jean Carter, her brother, and two sisters were taken by force to different children’s homes.

CARTER: I remember that first night when they gave us this scalding hot bath and washed us carbolic soap and put into these white, stiff nightdresses. I didn’t see my baby brother or my other brother from the time we were taken that afternoon. I didn’t know where they were.

EHRLICH: Carter was kept under state supervision until she was 18. During those ten years she saw her mother one time and never saw her father again.

CARTER: My mother came to the home once and she had to leave by the end of the day. And I saw her go I was really, really heartbroken. I remember running down the road to meet her and that, and she’d saved up all these little, these boxes of hankies—they were all ironed. And these ribbons and things like that that she’d—of course we were always in, I was always in pigtails when I went to school. That was the only time I saw my mother. And then I never saw my father alive. I used to watch the driveway, this long driveway and expect my dad to come up and take us home. But that never ever happened.

[Australian choir singing an apologetic song about taking Aboriginal children from their parents]

EHRLICH: According to one psychological study in Melbourne, 90 percent of Aboriginal people who had been taken from their families had suffered from chronic depression and many had other serious psychological problems. Jean Carter says she saw the emotional turmoil at the children’s home.

JEAN CARTER: The loneliness and that, not having that loving contact of your parents, that denial of all that was the most heart-rending. You’d hear girls going to bed and sleeping, and before it they’d be crying, you know. I had one letter from my dad and I think I read it, and I cried each night. And the letter eventually crumbled to nothing, you know.

EHRLICH: Even when children and parents were reunited years later, members of the “Stolen Generation” had trouble adjusting. In some cases the children had assimilated the values of their white teachers or foster parents. Peter Sabatino heads up Aboriginal affairs for the National Council of Churches.

PETER SABATINO: They’re going backwards and not in a positive way. Because they probably didn’t know their family, then saw them as, you know, as a white person. And so you can imagine the hurt and the pain that they would have because they were rejected by their own family. And they also felt kind of not really accepted by the white society. So they really get caught in the middle

ABORIGINAL GIRL: The song was about kids, good kids.

[Aboriginal children singing a song]

EHRLICH: As an adult Jean Carter tracked down the records of her case. Her parents had been charged with neglect because they lived in poverty.

CARTER: We didn’t have a toilet in the house, which, well it was wasn’t built into any of the other houses in that area because the people were really struggling. In the La Paruse history there is that English families and migrant families, we scraped together materials from the beach—Haitian bag and kerosene tents that would make a dwelling livable.

EHRLICH: Did the welfare ever come and take the children of the English families, or the other migrants, the non-Aboriginal?

CARTER: No, no. We never heard of it.

EHRLICH: Carter’s experiences were typical for several generations of Aborigines. A 1995 government report says perhaps as many as one in three Aboriginal children were taken from their families, a total of some 100,000 children.

[Aboriginal children singing a song]

EHRLICH: There is another side to the issue. Some government leaders say they provided decent homes and a good education for neglected Aboriginal children. Mervyn Pettemure was a Christian missionary for 45 years and headed the Retta Dixon Children’s Home in Darwin from 1962 to 1980. In testimony before a government inquiry, he said Aboriginal parents gave up their children voluntarily.

MERVYN PETTEMURE: We didn’t steal any children. I know there are people who have said they were taken from their parents. And so as far as separation was concerned we did our best to hold families together. I spent hours and hours counseling parents who came to Retta Dixon, telling them the reasons why they should care for their own children.

EHRLICH: Peter Howson, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1971 and ’72, says Aborigines benefited from being assimilated into Australian society. They learned English and got job skills. He says that mixed-race children, who would have been shunned by the tribes, particularly benefited.

PETER HOWSON: The mothers wanted to see that these children were educated. They could not be indoctrinated into the tribe, because the tribal laws prohibited that in most cases. And so they were sent to boarding schools. There were no local schools in the territory in those areas, so they were trained, sent to boarding schools in order to get an education so that they could participate in employment later on.

EHRLICH: Missionary Mervyn Pettemure.

PETTEMURE: Call it assimilation if you like, but they felt it was justified. Our big desire and constant prayer is that every child will come to accept Jesus Christ. But even if he or she does not, we still care for them for His sake.

REVEREND DAVID GILL: Racism has been a major element in the life of Australia. And that includes the life of Australia’s churches.

EHRLICH: Reverend David Gill heads the National Council of Churches of Australia, which includes the Catholic Church and most Protestant denominations.

GILL: Racism, written deeply into the human heart, was affecting the ease with which white Australians could live with what was happening. It was not difficult for them to convince themselves that it really was in the best interests of these kids to be brought up in a white society, in a white-run institution. I think, I think the churches, along with everybody else in this culture fell for the notion that what really is important for indigenous children is getting a good upbringing getting a good education, getting a chance to find a good job, so, and thus integrate with the mainstream of white-run Australia. This was in the best interest of the kids. And as racists always do, my ancestors screamed out of their consciousness, the whole issue of the importance of identity and culture.

EHRLICH: Under government theory at the time, Aborigines didn’t have any identity or culture worth preserving. If there was enough intermarriage, the argument went, then the inferior Aboriginal culture would die out. Jason Field was a member of the national commission of inquiry that looked into the Stolen Generation issue.

JASON FIELD: It was basically a policy of forced assimilation. It was also, as found by the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal children from their families, to be an act of genocide on the basis that there was an intent there that Aboriginal people, the Aboriginal race, would die off. And that, as defined in the Genocide Convention under international law, the transfer of children from one group to another group with that intent to destroy or damage a race, is an act of genocide.

[Australian choir singing an apologetic song about taking Aboriginal children from their parents]

EHRLICH: The Stolen Generation has become a hot political issue in Australia. The current Conservative government argues that there really never was a Stolen Generation. The Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Senator John Herron??, estimates that perhaps only one in ten children were taken, hardly constituting a generation. He says his government has done a lot to help Aborigines.

SENATOR JOHN HERRON: We’re spending $2.2 billion this year alone on health and housing, and education, and employment, to try and address the wrongs of the past. We’re spending $63 million specifically on reuniting and assisting families.

EHRLICH: Many Australians now demand that the federal government apologize for its policies towards the Stolen Generation. Senator Herron argues that an apology would inevitably lead to paying compensation, perhaps costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

HERRON: If you say that every Aboriginal in this country is effected—we’re talking of 396,000 people—how much compensation are you going to give them? How much are you going to pay? We don’t believe that cash compensation is the answer.

EHRLICH: The National Council of Churches’ Reverend Gill says state governments have apologized, as have church groups.

GILL: The present Australian prime minister just does not feel in himself the urgency of this moral issue. I mean he says occasionally that he’s in favor of the reconciliation process. But again and again the present government of Australia just seems to have no feeling at all for what indigenous people are saying, or for that matter what the churches are saying in support of indigenous people. We have become utterly frustrated with the insensitivity of the present government of Australia on anything to do with indigenous people.

EHRLICH: Reverend Gill and Aboriginal leaders note that courts still tend to place mixed-race children with the white parent in a divorce dispute and that Aboriginal children are still being sent to white foster homes when, under the law, they should remain in the Aboriginal community. Jason Field says the criminal justice system also discriminates against Aborigines.

FIELD: Statistics sort of indicate that even when a child, an Aboriginal child, is, comes into contact with the police, they are more often than not likely to be brought into the system rather than being cautioned and sort of being given a slap on the wrist and sent home. So there are problems there in terms of the police force. Also, when the children come before the courts they’re quite often discriminated against in terms of the sentences that are given.

EHRLICH: There is a growing movement against such institutional racism. In May some 250,000 people of all nationalities participated in a march for reconciliation in Sydney. The huge turnout was seen as an implicit slap at the Conservative government, which pointedly refused to apologize to Aborigines during the event. Jean Carter says an apology and compensation are key to bringing white and Aboriginal peoples together.

CARTER: I don’t believe that there can be reconciliation until the Stolen Generation has been addressed. The reconciliation of the people is growing. They are responding emotionally to the stories and that. But what we want to do is address the nation, decision-makers, you know. Because there’s got to be reparation, there’s got to be justice seen for all the Stolen Generation, to be able to get on with this job of healing.

[Australian choir singing an apologetic song about taking Aboriginal children from their parents]

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in La Paruse, Australia.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security