Tuesday, 14 February 2023
National Apology to the Stolen Generations: 15th Anniversary
In rising to speak on the anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, I'd like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples of the Canberra region, as well as the Indigenous people, the traditional owners, from my electorate of Chisholm, the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people.
What a significant week in the life of our parliament and our nation this has been, with the cross-parliamentary friends of the Uluru statement and, of course, the anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. The occasion of the apology 15 years ago, on 13 February 2008, was and remains a momentous day in our country's history and in the process of healing, which is necessary to walk towards real reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
While state and territory governments had already made their own apologies for the violence and harm rendered on the Stolen Generations before 2008, it took Kevin Rudd's election in 2007 to see a national apology. This apology came after the harrowing Bringing them home report and related inquiry, which heard from over 500 people who had been impacted by forced child removal and assimilation, which had been government policy. It was brave and it was generous for those who participated to share their often very painful stories with the inquiry. It was only right that their words, their stories and, unfortunately, their trauma could lead to taking the next step towards healing.
It's an unfortunate truth that children's homes in my own electorate, long gone now, were sites of horror, and I'm very sorry that that happened in our community. I remember the debate, when I was at school, around whether the Stolen Generations should be apologised to by the government and the extent to which it was even considered bad. Now, when I visit schools—and it's one of my favourite parts of the job—it's clear that the apology is now embraced by young people as a turning point in our nation. And the history of First Nations people is not sanitised; the brutal truths are known, as well as the 60,000 years of continuous culture of First Nations people in this country. That is taught and that is celebrated. In a similar vein to the way the apology opened up a pathway for reconciliation, for understanding and for healing, our nation now has the opportunity, with the voice referendum, to continue down that pathway and ensure constitutional recognition for our first people and to really listen to first Nations People in this country.
The work of this nation will not end once the referendum to enshrine a voice is voted on—even with a 'yes' vote. This is just another step on the journey towards reconciliation, towards better outcomes for Australia and Torres Strait Islander people, towards Closing the Gap. The voice is the first part of implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which we are committed to as a Labor government—voice, treaty, truth.
Our nation does have a way to go to ensure that, on critical measures, including infant mortality and life expectancy, there are improvements for First Nations people. The statistics on health and educational outcomes are not good enough for First Nations people, and there needs to be more done in relation to the justice system to ensure there is not a disproportionate number of First Nations people incarcerated. We must do better.
The voice is a step towards a better nation. The national apology, too, was a leap forward in our healing journey. For all those impacted by the stolen generations, by government policies that sought to separate children from families and from culture, I am sorry. It is right that, 15 years later, we are still sorry as a nation. I hope that people across this country make the decision to be on what I believe is the right side of history and vote for constitutional recognition and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. I hope we as a nation can take the next step towards reconciliation, towards better outcomes and justice for First Nations people in our country and for a stronger Australia for all of us.