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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2350

Senator CONROY ( Victoria Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity ) ( 12:30 ): I move:

That the Senate support the apology given on this day by the Prime Minister, on behalf of the nation, to people affected by forced adoption and removal policies and practices in the following terms:

Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.

We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers.

And we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members.

We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children. You were not legally or socially acknowledged as their mothers. And you were yourselves deprived of care and support.

To you, the mothers who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we apologise.

We say sorry to you, the mothers who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent. You were given false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal.

We know you have suffered enduring effects from these practices forced upon you by others. For the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatisation and the guilt, we say sorry.

To each of you who were adopted or removed, who were led to believe your mother had rejected you and who were denied the opportunity to grow up with your family and community of origin and to connect with your culture, we say sorry.

We apologise to the sons and daughters who grew up not knowing how much you were wanted and loved.

We acknowledge that many of you still experience a constant struggle with identity, uncertainty and loss, and feel a persistent tension between loyalty to one family and yearning for another.

To you, the fathers, who were excluded from the lives of your children and deprived of the dignity of recognition on your children's birth records, we say sorry. We acknowledge your loss and grief.

We recognise that the consequences of forced adoption practices continue to resonate through many, many lives. To you, the siblings, grandparents, partners and other family members who have shared in the pain and suffering of your loved ones or who were unable to share their lives, we say sorry.

Many are still grieving. Some families will be lost to one another forever. To those of you who face the difficulties of reconnecting with family and establishing on-going relationships, we say sorry.

We offer this apology in the hope that it will assist your healing and in order to shine a light on a dark period of our nation's history.

To those who have fought for the truth to be heard, we hear you now. We acknowledge that many of you have suffered in silence for far too long.

We are saddened that many others are no longer here to share this moment. In particular, we remember those affected by these practices who took their own lives. Our profound sympathies go to their families.

To redress the shameful mistakes of the past, we are committed to ensuring that all those affected get the help they need, including access to specialist counselling services and support, the ability to find the truth in freely available records and assistance in reconnecting with lost family.

We resolve, as a nation, to do all in our power to make sure these practices are never repeated. In facing future challenges, we will remember the lessons of family separation. Our focus will be on protecting the fundamental rights of children and on the importance of the child's right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

With profound sadness and remorse, we offer you all our unreserved apology.

With those words the Prime Minister this morning apologised on behalf of the nation to those people affected by forced adoption and removal policies and practices. The Prime Minister's address was followed by a speech from the Leader of the Opposition in support of the apology.

Let me begin by acknowledging the hundreds of people who have travelled to Parliament House today to witness our national leaders deliver an apology that has been a long time coming. Thank you for your presence today. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all senators when I express my sincere hope that today's apology, coupled with the concrete measures announced by the Prime Minister this morning, will go some way to healing the hurt and distress caused by the forcible separation of parents from their children.

A motion of apology will also be moved by our colleagues in the House of Representatives today. It is in the Senate, however, that the issue of forced adoptions has particular resonance. The catalyst for today's apology was the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report into the Commonwealth contribution to former forced adoption policies and practices. I acknowledge the hard work of that committee's members and congratulate them for what they have been able to achieve for those whose stories they chronicled in the report.

The wealth of evidence submitted to the committee can leave no doubt that many were treated appallingly. Mothers were not informed of their rights, did not provide informed consent and were given false assurances, denied care and support, and endured pressure, mistreatment and coercion. Mothers were left feeling stigmatised and disempowered. The committee rightly concluded that a national apology was a necessary and significant first step in the healing process for those affected. Words alone, however, are not enough.

The government recognises the importance of concrete measures to accompany the national apology as part of a national framework to address the consequences of forced adoption. As announced by the Prime Minister this morning, the government's response includes $11.5 million over the next four years for concrete measures to ensure that those affected by forced adoption practices have access to effective support and counselling services. These measures are more fully outlined in the government's response to the Senate committee.

For now, let me echo the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister this morning in offering an unreserved apology to those affected by forced adoption and removal policies and practices. I commend the motion to the Senate.