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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 722

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:07): As a newly elected member in this place, I had the privilege of being in the chamber for Prime Minister Rudd's apology to the stolen generations. Some days, parliament together hits those rare notes where collectively the sum of our actions is greater than the individual parts. On that day nine years ago, that was such a day. Prime Minister Rudd, opposition leader Brendan Nelson, the government, the parliament and the people of Australia said sorry. We faced up to a dark shadow of our national past: exclusion, discrimination and dispossession.

The moment I remember most vividly was not the offer of the apology, as fundamental as that was, but the way it was accepted. On that day, there was a giving of forgiveness and a seeking of forgiveness. There was a sense of hope and joy. How on earth are we so fortunate to share this continent with the bigness of spirit of our First Australians, the way they grasped the hand of national healing? It did not become a moment for recrimination; but it in fact became a moment of catharsis for all, banishing the demons and devils of old hatred as forgiveness was sought. I think a lot of us that day found ourselves asking, 'Why did it take so long? Why did we wait to do the right thing?' That was because once it happened, with one or two unfortunate exceptions, there was a collective weight taken off the shoulders of the nation. Let us not find ourselves asking that again.

There are profound challenges ahead of us on the road to reconciliation. We should be taking hope from the resilience of Aboriginal people; drawing hope from the success of Aboriginal leadership; finding hope in the way that communities, locals, young people and their elders are tackling the problems they face; and creating hope in a future where our First Australians have the first say in decisions which affect their lives. With this hope, let us walk forward together in the spirit of the apology nine years ago today.