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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3422


Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (18:05): I rise today to speak about a time in our nation's history that cannot be simply forgotten. Forced adoption policies and practices were widespread throughout Australia during the 1950s and on to the early 1970s. The practice of forced adoption affected many members of society. It was not restricted to a particular class, race, region or area. This was a time when many women were made to relinquish their children, a step that went against every instinct within them, breaking one of the most precious bonds that we have, that between parent and child. This was a time of deep distress and confusion for many young women.

I stand here today saddened, particularly for those men and women whose lives were marked by this practice and the impact that it had not only on them but, particularly, on their children. For many, the grief has impacted their lives to this day. We know the role played by a mother and a father is invaluable, often setting the platform and foundation for a child's future. More important, it allows a child to understand where they come from, who their mother and father are. Many who have been impacted by forced adoption have questioned whether they were loved, whether they were wanted.

A nation now understands the ripple effect of policies which did not put the needs of children first. The experience of every mother and child who endured this heartbreak was unique and very personal. We have heard some of those stories in this chamber today. All of us were touched and impacted to the depths of our being when we heard the stories, particularly throughout the Senate inquiry. We heard from mothers who were stigmatised and disempowered. Many mothers were shunned by the very people who should have been protecting and supporting them. I am sure the secrecy, the shame and the confusion was overwhelming for many at times. Of course we also heard the stories of children who, after years of struggling, asked the question, 'Why?' We heard about their questions of identity and their struggle to accept themselves and their past.

In my own electorate of Macquarie there are quite a few brave people who have been touched by this issue. I would like to relate the story of one such man, a man by the name of Erik Spinney. Many of us know him. He is better known by his tribal name of Standing Bear. Erik was adopted as a baby through the forced adoption practices and he gave evidence at the Senate inquiry as well as writing several submissions. I have met Erik many times and have spent some time talking with him, not only in my office but over coffee. Last year I was touched by his own story. I was touched by his determination to reach out to others who have had the same experience. He spoke about the resulting emotional, physical and psychological effects for those who were part of forced adoption. Erik speaks weekly with people who have gone through the same experience. He mentioned to me that he has been in the position where he has had to talk down several people, mothers of adopted children and adoptees, from committing serious self-harm. While living in Canada for a few years Erik became ill but was unable to access his family medical history. This added complications to his treatment. These are just some of the ramifications for those men and women who were impacted by forced adoption. Erik's message to me was that we must ensure people do not fall through the cracks. We must ensure that every story counts. It is pleasing that one of the recommendations of the inquiry was that an exhibition be commissioned documenting the experiences of those affected by former forced-adoption practices and policies.

The Australian government is funding the National Archives of Australia, over three years, to deliver a forced-adoptions experience history project. We all know that the national apology to those involved in forced-adoption practices is only a beginning of the healing process. We need to be diligent to ensure that the proper support services are available to the thousands of men and women in our electorates across this nation who have been affected by former forced-adoption policies. They need to continue to be given a voice.

I echo the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition in honouring those who have borne the hurt of the mistakes of this era. I wish to honour the parents who have always loved their children. I want to honour the parents—including the fathers— who have always loved their children and were so hurt by the decisions taken out of their own hands and made for them. It is important also to mention those adoptive parents who have tried to do the right thing by the children who were placed in their care.

It is also important to honour and acknowledge all the children who have tried, in their own ways, to find their own place in a less-than-perfect world. That has, particularly at the instance of their birth, let them down. I congratulate and acknowledge their bravery and courage, and hope that their journey of healing does move closer towards wholeness.