Senate debates

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Forced Adoption

4:09 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to also make a statement as we prepare for the first anniversary of the national apology for forced adoptions tomorrow, 21 March.

We have heard the voices—voices which were silenced for far too long—of those so deeply and profoundly affected by forced adoption practices, practices which were unethical, dishonest and illegal.

I was profoundly honoured to have been part of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the Commonwealth's contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices, the report of which helped bring about the apology that we reflect on today.

The committee heard stories from mothers, fathers and adoptees who had the sacred bond between parent and child broken. We heard accounts of improper use of drugs by medical staff and even cases of young women being shackled whilst birthing. We heard accounts from many mothers who were denied the most natural and simple instinct of a parent, that being the chance to touch and hold their baby.

We heard accounts from mothers who were not informed of their rights and from those who were not given the opportunity to provide consent to the adoption. We heard from children, now adults, who were denied the opportunity to grow up knowing their parents and knowing the truth. We heard accounts from fathers who were barred from the place of their child's birth and prevented from being recognised on birth certificates.

At the public hearing of the Senate inquiry in Hobart, one mother stated:

… I am going to be a fighter and a warrior here today and am concerned to talk about what I think now needs to happen to restore our dignity to us.

I think that this mother and all others who have shared their stories are fighters and warriors. To those who fought to be heard and who fought for justice: we heard you and we thank you.

In giving the apology for forced adoptions on behalf of the Australian people, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said:

We offer this apology in the hope that it will assist your healing and in order to shine a light on a dark period of our nation's history.

I believe that the eloquent and unreserved apology offered one year ago tomorrow did shine a light on this dark period, as did similar apologies from governments and organisations around Australia, including the apology on behalf of the people of Tasmania from former Premier Lara Giddings, on 18 October 2012.

But it was those who fought to have their accounts heard that first turned on this light. So I sincerely thank those who shared their accounts, including those who contributed to the inquiry. Thank you for turning the light on. It is now up to all of us to not turn away from what we see, to acknowledge the unethical, dishonest and illegal practices of the past, and the ongoing pain and suffering of those affected. It is now up to us to do all within our power to ensure these practices are never repeated. However, as we reflect on the apology, it is important to acknowledge that words alone cannot heal the lifelong suffering of those affected by forced adoption.

When former Prime Minister Gillard made the national apology, it was also announced that the federal government would provide $5 million to improve access to specialist support and records tracing for those affected by forced adoptions and would work with the states and territories to help improve these services. Also, funding of $5 million to enable mental health professionals to better assist in providing support for those affected by forced adoption.

A further $1.5 million was provided for the National Archives of Australia to deliver a website, exhibition and education program to increase awareness and understanding of experiences of individuals affected by forced adoption practices and to share the experiences of forced adoption. This is an important step to ensure that the horrific events of the past are never forgotten and never repeated.

I was privileged to attend the launch of the website this morning and to hear from the minister; Mr David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia; and Professor Mushin, Chair of the Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group. I would recommend that all in this place visit the National Archives website and promote it to others, to continue to shine the light on this dark period of our nation's history.

I congratulate all those who have been involved in this project: those from the National Archives; the implementation working group, which includes my colleagues in the Senate Senator Moore, Senator Siewert and Senator Boyce; and those others who have continued to work on the development of this website. I look forward to seeing this project develop, in particular the travelling exhibition which is still to come.

This project is part of the $11.5 million investment over four years the federal government announced to assist those affected by forced adoption practices as part of its response to the recommendations in the Senate inquiry report. At this morning's launch, the forced adoption apology parchment was also unveiled for public display. It will be publicly displayed in the Members' Hall of Parliament House. Hanging this parchment in Parliament House demonstrates the importance this parliament places on the apology.

I want to again share words I have reflected on before when speaking on this issue in this place because I think these words, given as evidence to the inquiry by a Tasmanian mother, are so vitally important. The mother said:

… I want people to know that I loved my baby, that she was wanted and that I am her mother.

It took far too long for this to be acknowledged and for sorry to be said—and, tragically, for some it came too late. But now we know, we have heard, and it is incumbent upon all of us to support healing, to promote understanding and education, and to work to ensure that this can never happen again. I wish to finish by reflecting on, as Senator Siewert did in her contribution, Prime Minister Gillard's concluding words of the national apology:

With profound sadness and remorse, we offer you all our unreserved apology.


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