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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 802

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (19:40): I rise to acknowledge the 9th anniversary of the historic apology given by former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in this House, to the generations of Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families as a result of some insidious government policies between the decades of 1910 and 1970.

The legacy of trauma and loss stemming from this government practice is deep and lasting. The removals were underpinned by well-worn colonial ideology around assimilation, at the time, which was predicated on a fear of difference, on a fear of what is unknown and perhaps strange.

Children forcibly removed from their families were punished if they continued to identify with their Indigenous heritage and culture. They were forbidden to speak their traditional languages. They were made to feel ashamed of any cultural legacy. And they were forced to cut all ties with their families. Many were treated as cheap or sometimes free labour, denied an education and forced to work on stations or as domestic servants. Many others were subjected to unspeakable abuse and trauma, the scars of which they bear to this day.

This cruel policy tore Indigenous Australians adrift from their families and links to their culture and language, and that trauma has been passed down from generation to generation. Shamefully, this was exactly the intent of the assimilation policy—by severing those cultural ties and by the outrageous practices of encouraging Indigenous women to only marry white men. This horrific idea was based on the eugenics movement in Germany, at the time, around breeding out an entire population.

I have spent a lot of my life living and working in Indigenous communities in different parts of Australia and have seen firsthand some of the lasting impacts of forced removal of children from their families. While we should absolutely acknowledge the historic importance of that apology—some nine years ago tonight—I do want to touch on the harsh reality that more Aboriginal children today are living in out-of-home care than when that apology was delivered in 2008. Indeed, the number of children living in out-of-home care has risen by a horrific 65 per cent. We are looking at an increase of 1,000 Aboriginal children every year. Indigenous children are now nine times more likely to be removed from their homes than non-indigenous children.

What is deeply disturbing in that number of children having been removed is that at no point was any effort made to act in accordance with the provisions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, which would have seen children placed, firstly, with extended members of their families or in their own communities when safe to do so.

It is unquestionable that we must always prioritise the safety and wellbeing of children, Indigenous or not. We cannot close our eyes to the very real risk and danger, to the psychological and emotional trauma, and to the physical issues that Indigenous children will face not just today but for generations to come if this practice of forced removal of children from families continues. Saying sorry was just the first step. There is so much more work to be done to address the past wrongs.