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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2362

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (13:27): I am humbled to say a few words as part of this national apology today to people who have been affected by past forced adoption practices and to acknowledge many things: to acknowledge the extreme trauma inflicted on mothers and children from Australia's past adoption practices; to acknowledge that these practices were profoundly wrong; to acknowledge that children were taken from their mothers without consent; to acknowledge, worse still, that these children were taken with force and coercion; to acknowledge that women were intentionally degraded, lectured to, hectored, ignored, humiliated, lied to or drugged in order to tear them from their infants; to acknowledge that these practices were also used to manipulate the so-called consent from women—and I note that in Western Australia women were rarely, if ever, told that they had legal rights, including the legal right to withdraw consent (it was a 30-day right); to acknowledge that this so-called consent was often thrown back in the faces of women to reinforce the idea that these children were unwanted; to acknowledge the denial not only of that natural right but of that legal parent-child relationship; and to acknowledge that these practices have had deep, lifelong impacts on mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and on whole families. These practices were immoral, unethical, often unlawful and the cause of deep and profound suffering. Today, with this apology, we recognise all of these wrongs. Today we say sorry. Today we apologise.

I know that saying sorry cannot take away all of this suffering, but I hope that it can help many in our nation who have been affected by these practices to heal. I also hope that it can help people to reach out, to help correct the record and to correct those long-held misbeliefs—the misbelief that these children were unwanted and unloved. I would like to share with you a quote from Sue MacDonald, who has bravely shared her story and was a brave campaigner for the apology in Western Australia. She has spoken to me about her history. She said:

We were treated like animals with no feelings for the babies we conceived, carried, gave birth to and love. We were viewed as little more than breeders, unpaid surrogates, fallen women who needed to be punished and rehabilitated, by having our babies taken. We have lived with the injustice of knowing that the perpetrators of this abuse have by in large, been viewed by society as squeaky clean professional people performing wonderful work in the community, finding perfect homes for the children "we supposedly did not want and abandoned". We have had thirty, forty or fifty years of living with the injustice of this general and sanitized view. This view continues to colour our children‘s perception—most believe they were abandoned, unwanted, unloved and then rescued by their adoptive parents.

I think this quote really unravels some of those perceptions today. It shows the difficulty that many people had in reaching out to reconnect family bonds, because that was such a widespread and prevailing view. So I would like to thank everyone who has helped lift the lid on this, including those who were part of those practices who helped unveil what had been happening in our institutions, but most of all the mothers and families who have bravely lifted their voices to help tell this story.

As a child I grew up in the seventies and eighties, and I grew up amongst a generation of young people taken from their mothers. As Senator McKenzie said, in every classroom you were in, you would be with other young people who were adopted. I know I have watched many of these friends, and people I have known, work hard to reach out to reforge family relationships. I really want to commend all of those who have struggled to put back together what the state, and others, broke apart by reaching out to find children, mothers, fathers and family. I note, with some sadness, that for many affected by past adoption practices contact vetoes still exist. Some people will pass from this earth without ever having met the kin that they were separated from.

As a chair of a committee that inquired into adoption practices in Western Australia, I have had to look this issue squarely in the face to consider whether our adoption practices today meet the ethical standards that they should, and I have had to reflect on the past adoption practices and the failure of whole systems, including of legislators, to protect the fundamental human rights of children, mothers and families. While I cannot stand in the shoes of people who, because of family secrecy or shame inflicted by past practices, still feel that they need these contact vetoes, I can question whether it should be legitimate today to legally prevent someone from making contact with someone who is their parent or child.

I have great hope today that this apology helps dispel the myth that adopted children were unwanted or unloved and that mothers were unworthy or unfit. With today's apology, we can continue to learn from this terrible past to ensure that these practices are never repeated. Most importantly of all, with today's apology, we can help lift the veil of secrecy, and sometimes shame, so that people affected by past adoption practices can continue to reach out to each other and to affirm their family bonds. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.