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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2160


Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (17:09): It's important to be in this place, but even more so when you get to speak on something like this, following someone such as the member for Hunter, who was actually here during that time. I wasn't here during that time. I was at home, raising my own children, but I know something about removal of children from families. My grandmother was taken at 14, given to the Nazis in Poland and put into a work camp. She never saw her parents or her family again. So this apology and the notion that children could be taken from their families is something that my family grew up with. My babcia—my grandmother—always spoke fondly of her family, and I imagine that is what it would be like for many of the children who were taken.

I had the privilege of growing up with a particular girl from kindergarten through to high school. In our entire journey through school, from all of those K-6 years right up until high school, it wasn't until we got to year 8 or year 9 that her family admitted that they were Indigenous. Such was the fear that ran through her family that that child and her sibling would be or could be removed from their family that even then, in the eighties and nineties, their family did not feel safe to admit their Aboriginality. They didn't own up to it, they didn't own it and they weren't proud of it. They didn't celebrate it; they denied it. I can understand why this apology has had such an effect.

We started giving an acknowledgement of country after that historic event, and I start them with something like 'I acknowledge the traditional lands' where this meeting, speech, even or whatever I'm doing takes place. I always follow with: 'I commit myself to reducing the high rates of incarceration of young people so it is not the case that, if you are young and Aboriginal, you are more likely to be in jail than you are to be at university. I commit myself to reducing the numbers of children in care, away from their families, culture and community, which has doubled in the last 10 years since the apology to the stolen generations. And I commit myself to reducing the rates of family violence in Aboriginal communities, which is 32 times higher for Aboriginal women.' This is how I open all of my public addresses, and it's a reminder to all of us that this is not a series of words where we simply acknowledge that we're on Aboriginal land. We acknowledge and we provide that to re-energise people and remind people it is important.

I am pretty devastated to see that there is not a Liberal speaker on this today or when it was in here the other day, and there was not for Closing the Gap. I was incredibly proud to be at the anniversary of the apology when it was here but very distressed not to see any members of the government there except for the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. I make that statement not to politicise this but because I just had to sit through a committee meeting with one of the government members, who didn't know that there were 35,000 Aboriginal children currently in foster care, away from their families. I know that they're not really governing for the people, they're not really on the same planet as us and they're certainly not on the same page, let alone in the same storybook, but I would have thought a number like that, which is so significantly larger than the number we started with 10 years ago when we gave this apology, would have been a number that nearly every single person in this House knew, understood and was trying to reconcile. In the world of that member of the government party, ignorance is obviously bliss, but it is incredibly disheartening to know that people that I walk with in the corridors of this place are not here for the same reasons. We can be ideologically opposed or whatever you like, but, when it comes to this, when it comes to doing justice and making right the errors of our past, every single person in this place should understand what it is. We've all had access to the Closing the gap reports. I get given one every year that we do it. We have a statement. I don't know where that member's head is at when those statements are given, but he's clearly not listening twice as much as he's speaking.

When that apology was given, I wasn't here, but I watched intently the look of pride on the people gathered inside and outside of this place—in the galleries, on the lawns. The member for Hunter talked about the ring of Aboriginal people circling this building. It was an outpouring of relief that past wrongs had finally been recognised. We had really looked into the nation's heart and said that we were wrong. I remember feeling that outside and not having that same level of emotion that was felt in here, walking around in my community and thinking: 'Okay, we've done something. We've actually rectified something here.' We've said that we were wrong about so many things almost as one—except for a few who refused to be in the chamber when that apology was given. We almost all shook hands with people we didn't know, and we formed friendships and saw firsthand the effects that the apology had on some of the most disaffected people in Australia.

I am always proud to be a member of the Labor Party, but I'm incredibly proud that we had the strength and tenacity to do something about this. Everything is always hard until it's done. For years and years we were told that we couldn't say that we were sorry. In his apology the then Prime Minister said, 'We sought a future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never happen again.' We have 35,000 first-nation children currently not growing up with their family, culture, communities or connections to the land. I wouldn't say that that apology has been heeded in most circles. I would say that that's a pretty disappointing outcome.

The apology did lead to the development and the action around Closing the Gap, and we collectively gave a commitment to Indigenous Australians that we would back our words with some action. Despite these efforts, there is still too much more to be done; and I say too much more not because it is an insurmountable task but because it takes will and it takes an absolute commitment to doing it. It takes people understanding that there are 35,000 children currently in care. It takes people understanding what that looks like and what that means, how we get them out of there, and it creates an opportunity to rectify that.

We need to accept that inequality, disadvantage and health outcomes for Aboriginal people are well below world standards and also that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. I recognise that my community of Lindsay requires a very different approach to the communities in Central Australia. And, having the largest urban settlement of Aboriginal people in Western Sydney, I do know that that approach is going to be very different to what we might see in Townsville, in Ceduna, in the Goldfields or in Alice Springs.

I reiterate my commitment to working with all of the Aboriginal communities to achieve their goals. I was very proud to go to and visit Alice Springs a couple of times last year and to make a connection with the Tangentyere women's safety group, who are trying to better their lives and the outcomes for women up there and also for their children. I do note that NAIDOC Week's theme this year, to be celebrated in the middle of the year, is all about women and the important role women play in those communities.

We need to work together to ensure that the evidence based data and strong cultural understanding are actually realised for real outcomes and work towards proper jobs, positive educational outcomes and, importantly, better health outcomes. It is not acceptable that by virtue of your Aboriginality you are going to die sooner than someone with white skin. That's not something to be accepting of in 2018 in this country. It is not something we should ever dismiss by saying, 'That's their lot in life.' We need to close those gaps and work together to ensure young Aboriginal people are not over-represented in our jails, which is currently the case. That's what an apology means. That's what it means when you say sorry. I never forced my kids and the kids I taught to say sorry. If they hit their brother or their sister, I never forced them to say sorry because I don't think that's the way you change their behaviour. But if you are sorry then you be sorry and you do sorry. It is not just a word that rolls off the tongue; it is an action, a doing word. We do not simply say, 'Sorry about that,' and move on. It's actually, 'I'm sorry and I'm not going to do it again.' Otherwise, it is useless to say it, in my opinion, because you will just be saying it every other day, every time you commit an offence.

When Kevin Rudd talked in his speech about the need for a future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity, that is essentially what the apology was aiming to do. It is dissatisfying and disappointing and, quite frankly, heartbreaking that we are still here trying to work together to rectify this 10 years later. The Labor Party has committed itself to working with First Australians. We've committed to the redress scheme or the compensation scheme—not that money takes things away or makes things better. We are committed to ensuring that First Nations leaders are heard and, more importantly, that their ideas are given credence, and that it's not us telling people what they need to know or to do; it's us allowing them to help us. I'm proud to be a member of the Labor Party, who apologised, and commit myself to continuing to close the gap.