Thursday, 20 March 2014
I rise to join with former members of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee that I had the pleasure to serve with during the production of this report. I stand here in place of a great advocate and member of the working group and implementation group, Senator Sue Boyce, to make a very short contribution. I would like to congratulate Senators Moore, Siewert and Boyce for their ongoing work in this area and for bringing the tough questions to this place and making us all sit around the table and come to grips with them. We are never stronger as a nation, I think, than when we all come together and are on the same page. We saw evidence of that last year during the Australian government's apology by former Prime Minister Gillard, and the contribution from then opposition leader Tony Abbott, to victims of forced adoption practices.
I was also very proud, as I said earlier, to be a member of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into forced adoption policies and practices. I agree with Senator Siewert's commentary that experiencing those hearings around the country will never leave us, hearing firsthand the experiences of mothers, fathers and, indeed, children and workers in some of those establishments at that time. As part of the inquiry we heard harrowing stories. I want to thank all the women, men and others who bravely told their stories to the inquiry to pave the way for this apology. This was an apology of the Australian government and it was supported by the whole parliament.
In response to the apology a year ago, the Australian government is investing $11.5 million over four years to 30 June 2017 to assist those affected by forced adoption practices. In August 2013, the department contracted the Australian Institute of Family Studies to map the current support available to determine how the system is meeting the needs of affected people and suggest service models to complement and enhance existing programs. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has undertaken consultations with service providers, advocacy support groups and state and territory governments on service model options.
As we have heard in previous contributions, the National Archives of Australia has developed a website and is planning an exhibition to document the history of forced adoptions in Australia. The National Archives have consulted key stakeholders and invited public contributions to the website, and contributions to the website will continue after its launch this morning by Minister Andrews. The website contains an option for people to subscribe to a mailing list so that they can be continually updated on this particular issue. There is a link to the Attorney-General's page where there are Hansards, photos and copies of the actual apology document that can be downloaded by anybody who is interested. The forced adoptions exhibition will launch on the second anniversary of the national apology in 2015 and will tour nationally.
The Department of Health provided $3.5 million to 30 June 2014 to all 61 Medicare Locals to increase their capacity to meet the expected increase in demand for the Access to Allied Psychological Services program following the national apology. People who have been affected by forced adoption practices who have a diagnosed mild to moderate mental health disorder could already access ATAPS; however, the one-off funding boost was to give people affected by forced adoptions priority access.
Australia will do all it can to ensure that such illegal and immoral practices will never again happen in our country. When the Australian government made its apology last year, all the states had already offered apologies to women and families affected by past adoption practices. On 25 October 2012 the Victorian parliament formally apologised, also announcing a number of additional measures to better respond to the needs of people affected by past adoption practices. They now have free access to Family Information Networks and Discovery to obtain copies of available adoption records and receive assistance to locate, contact and, where possible, mediate with family members separated by adoption, with a referral to appropriate support and counselling services.
Coalition senators Senator Adams and Senator Coonan also contributed to the Senate inquiry, and I again draw particular attention to Senator Sue Boyce for her continuing interest in this area. The hard work of healing has begun. We all stand together with those affected by forced adoption practices. (Time expired)