Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Forced Adoption

7:49 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight on adjournment to talk about and report on the inquiry into former forced adoption policies and practices. The report of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee was tabled in the Senate on 29 February. There were many mothers, fathers and children present who came here to see the culmination of an 18-month inquiry. When the report was tabled, senators may recall that there was an outbreak of applause from the gallery. More importantly, senators in the chamber stood and applauded those present in the gallery and all those affected by forced adoption. It was an unusual occurrence and I accept that it was unparliamentary, but it was an unusual occurrence that was a fitting tribute to those people affected.

It was a privilege to be able to attend the media event alongside these women after the tabling of the report. Some of them spoke, and I would like to congratulate them again for their bravery. The support that these women have for one another was evident in the room. It was suggested by some that we needed champagne to celebrate the end of their long journey and, of course, the Senate committee inquiry. Whilst we did not have any on hand, the spirit of the occasion was not lost. There were tears of sadness and also tears of relief. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, for attending the function on behalf of the government.

Since the tabling of the report we have seen an encouraging amount of media recognising the practices of forced adoptions. I believe that this has been important to get the full range of experiences and what occurred out into the open even more. This range of media coverage has also given legitimacy to what happened to these mothers, fathers and their children and what occurred. There have been extensive accounts in newspapers with personal interviews from people who have been affected, reports on the radio and television news and supportive editorials. The positive effects of this kind of coverage have been far-reaching as more women, those who may not have felt comfortable speaking about their experiences, are now sharing their stories as they realise they are not alone and they will be listened to. No longer do they have to feel as if they have had a shameful secret that will not be believed.

In the fortnight since the report was tabled, more women have made contact with me to say what they have been through, asked for a copy of the report and asked also to be kept updated on the next steps in the process. This has really highlighted to me that we will never officially know how many women experienced the practice of forced adoption, but it is clearly in the realms of many thousands.

I would like to read part of an email—just one of the many emails I received after the report was tabled—from a woman who now lives in my home state of Tasmania:

I want to commend you on your report and investigation.

I relinquished my son in 1970 at Hornsby Hospital. I was living at Carramar for a few months prior to that. I was uprooted from my school without saying goodbye to my friends or school community. I was not able to have any contact with my boyfriend (now my husband of 40 years) and was given little choice. I don't remember seeing a social worker and the stories portrayed in the 7.30 Report certainly rang true for me.

The report contains 20 recommendations, the strongest of which is an unequivocal formal apology from the Commonwealth to all those mothers, fathers and children who have been affected by forced adoptions.

It goes on to recommend that this apology be presented in a range of forms and be widely published. It also recommends that state governments and other institutions involved in the practice of forced adoption give apologies. The report continues by saying that these apologies should include statements that take responsibility for the past policy choices and not be qualified with references to values or professional practice during the time.

The establishment of a national framework to address the consequences of forced adoptions, to be developed by the Commonwealth, states and territories through the Community and Disability Services Ministers Advisory Council, is also recommended. Another recommendation is that the Commonwealth, states and territories establish, as a matter of urgency, affordable and regionally available specialised counselling and support for those affected. An exhibition based on the experiences of those who suffered from forced adoption is also recommended so that what has happened is recognised, remembered and never forgotten.

As we move forward, the report is now with the government, which will carefully consider the recommendations and work with stakeholders on the government's response to the report and what has been proposed. I know that the report and recommendations are being taken seriously, and I look forward—as do many thousands of people affected by forced adoption—to the response when it is finalised.

Senate adjourned at 19:55