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Monday, 14 August 2000
Page: 18836


Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that, in the Cubillo-Gunner decision delivered in the Federal Court last Friday, Justice O'Loughlin found:

At common law anything said or done in the House of Representatives is protected by absolute privilege ... and that prohibits the raising in a court of anything done or said in the Commonwealth Parliament.

In light of this reaffirmation that there has never been a credible legal impediment to a proper apology from this parliament to the stolen generations for the hurt and trauma they have suffered, will the Prime Minister now allow this parliament to join the state parliaments in discharging its duty to offer such an apology?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question. It is true that the judgment of the Federal Court delivered by Justice O'Loughlin last Friday was a very important judgment and it is one that repays very careful study. I do not dispute that contained in that judgment was the excerpt read by the Leader of the Opposition. I accept on this occasion that he has quoted it accurately. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that the principal basis on which I have argued a formal national apology in the terms constantly sought by the Leader of the Opposition is not appropriate is that it is not appropriate in my view and it is a view shared throughout the government that current generations should apologise for the deeds of earlier generations over which they had no control and which were in fact sanctioned by the law prevailing at the time.

It is important as we try to analyse in a sensitive fashion the judgment made by the court. I followed the case carefully. Although it was clearly the verdict of the court that in the case of Mr Gunner he was removed with the consent of his mother and in the case of Mrs Cubillo there was no evidence that she had been removed in circumstances that breached the statutory duty of the relevant government official, I think there is a clear acceptance by everybody that they are practices that current generations would never embrace and current generations would be critical of. It remains the view of the government that the most appropriate thing now to do is to focus on the future and to focus on bringing those members of the indigenous community of Australia who were subject to these practices back in contact with their families. That is why the government has strongly supported the $63 million program, recommended by the Wilson committee, that is designed to provide a link between the affected people and their families and is designed to do a number of other things.

While we are on the subject of what was contained in the court judgment, I might remind the Leader of the Opposition—I think it is relevant to the debate that has gone on—of an excerpt from His Honour's judgment that has not been covered in any of the media reports thus far. Amongst the other things that His Honour found was this statement:

The court found that the applicants failed to produce evidence that would substantiate a finding that there was a sweeping general policy of removal and detention.

He goes on to say:

There was no widespread practice of forcibly removing part Aboriginal children from their mothers. The court was satisfied that the number of part Aboriginal children living in the Territory far exceeded the capacity of the institutions to receive them and the patrol officers to remove them.

It remains the case that the government is sensitive to the ongoing trauma felt. That ongoing trauma was specifically acknowledged in the resolution of regret which passed through this parliament last year. It is my view and the government's view that that resolution of regret, fully supported by the Labor Party, was an appropriate expression of the current generation and the current parliament's views about those past practices. It is overwhelmingly the government's view that we should help these people get on with their lives in the future. The most effective way of doing that is to implement the recommendations that are embraced in that $63 million program.