Monday, 18 February 2008
Apology to Australia’S Indigenous Peoples
I rise here in the Main Committee this afternoon to make my contribution in response to the formal apology that was moved by the Prime Minister in the main chamber at the opening of parliament. I want to comment on that and also on the Leader of the Opposition and his response on that day. I went to witness the welcoming ceremony to the parliament in the Members Hall. I guess for many of us, or probably anyone who saw it, it was a first, and it was very interesting from my point of view. It was a historic moment and I have to say the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are many and quite unique, as I could witness in those dance routines. I only wish we had a bit of an explanation of them. Probably it is a bit like going to the ballet—you have to interpret what they are dancing—and I am not a great one for having been to have been to many ballets! But I thought if we had had an interpretation of that it would certainly have helped us as well. I certainly went along. I made sure that I was in a good position to watch. It was interesting and I think it was a reflection also of the many cultures that make up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
I do support the Prime Minister and his right to bring forward the apology. After all, he did campaign on it during the election and the Labor Party has for many, many years campaigned on that issue. The Prime Minister has the absolute right to bring forward that motion at the time of his choosing, albeit in this case the opening of the 42nd Parliament. I commend the Prime Minister on his speech to the parliament. Likewise, I commend the Leader of the Opposition on his speech. Whilst there are some who said in commentary around this place that they did not believe all that the Leader of the Opposition said, I have to say that I did. I guess that is why our nation is so great. We believe in democracy. We also believe in freedom of speech and the right of people to express things in a different manner, and I thought Brendan Nelson’s speech was appropriate. At the end of the day, I think he had a responsibility to reflect some other views in the community that I believe would be more supportive of our side of the House than of the government’s side. I think that in a sense he was trying to balance both the support for the motion put by the Prime Minister in the apology and his own experiences throughout his life.
Certainly, while listening to the stories from both leaders, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, no-one could deny that children were forcibly removed and that, having heard the stories relayed and put on the public record, that could not be right in our day and age. It was not right. I have to say that at that time people, governments and government authorities believed that they were doing the right thing. We reflect on it from our time in history. I know there are many church organisations, missionaries—nuns and others—and government agencies who believed that they were doing the right thing. I think they were well-meaning people. But once you listen to the stories of those that were forcibly removed and of the impact of that removal on those children—and it was not universal that they were all forcibly removed—you note there is certainly a need for us to acknowledge that that was wrong. That is what we are doing in this parliament, in this place, at this time.
I was disappointed that the Leader of The Nationals was not given an opportunity at that moment in the House to make a contribution. I say that because the opposition is made up of two political parties.