In Australia a parliamentary inquiry has just recommended a formal apology to 'mothers and children who were victims of past forced adoption practices'. The recommendation is for an apology from the Australian government itself and from 'state and territory governments and non-government institutions involved'. Labor senator Claire Moore is quoted as saying: 'The history... will now be known and acknowledged'. Which is, of course, one of the main purposes of such apologies. But those like Jeremy Paxman who think individuals should only apologize for what they themselves have done will have to conclude that the recommendation is wrong-headed, since the members of the governments concerned are not personally responsible for what happened 40 and more years ago.
An interesting light is cast on this mistaken opinion by a case currently before the US Supreme Court, in which the issue of corporate liability arises. I won't go into the detail of it, but merely say that principles of corporate liability and responsibility are well-established. There seems to be no reason why what applies to corporations shouldn't also apply to states and governments. This being so, collective entities can be held responsible for actions some way in the past. Individuals who belong to them, consequently, must be able to apologize for past actions although they bear no personal guilt.