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ECU Academics Analyse PM's Apology

Thursday, 14 February 2008


A team of restorative behaviour researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has made an analysis of the apology to the stolen generations based on their research into apology and reconciliation.

Professor Alfred Allan, head of the research team said "The elements of acknowledgement, genuine affect and reparative intentions were evident in the address and motion of apology offered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on behalf of the Australian Government and Parliament to members of the stolen generations and their descendants."

Professor Allan also argues that, in the context of reconciliation, research has shown that any sincere attempt at apology is more beneficial than no such attempt and that "action" components of an apology are necessary for the restoration of relationships.

"It was not our intention to evaluate the worth of the apology. That is up to the people to whom it was offered."

"However, we were interested in examining it in the light of a model we have developed of the types of apologies that lead to perceptions of true sorriness and to restoring relationships," said Professor Allan.

In recognising the Prime Minister's apology, the Vice-Chancellor of ECU, Professor Kerry Cox, has noted that "there still remains a huge amount of work to make good the short-fall Indigenous Australians experience with respect to education and health care. "

Acknowledgement of the hurt and suffering experienced by people who have been wronged has been shown to be one of the strongest factors in an effective apology.

The verbal and non-verbal expression of a sincere emotional response, such as deep sadness and genuine remorse, is also important. The third element of an effective apology shown by the model developed by the researchers is action.

The action element can take many forms, including: restitution in an attempt to restore a situation to its former condition; compensation, with the aim to repay or replace, in-kind or in-value, what has been lost; and reparation that attempts to actively address the practical and psychological needs of the person who has been wronged.

The team's research has shown that attempts to restore relationships using reparative-redress methods convey empathy for the person who has been harmed and promote favourable perceptions of the offender's character. Practical examples of this kind of action were: understanding the offence, listening to the needs of the offended, maintaining communication, "fronting up", and making a commitment that the offence would not be repeated.

The Restorative Behaviour Research Group is located in the School of Psychology and Social Science at Edith Cowan University.

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