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President of Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission responds to Opposition accusation that the Government is attempting to suppress the findings of 'stolen generation' inquiry into forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families

MONICA ATTARD: Well, the Federal Government has been accused by the Opposition of attempting to suppress the findings of a national inquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, received the recommendations of the 'stolen generations' inquiry in April, but the report won't be tabled until next week. In the meantime, sources within the Government have reportedly set about discrediting the report and its key contributors, the Human Rights Commission President, Sir Ronald Wilson, and Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Dodson. Well, we're joined now by Sir Ronald Wilson and, to speak with him, here's Julie Posetti in Canberra.

JULIE POSETTI: Sir Ronald, according to sources quoted in today's press, your report lacks credibility, partly because you've displayed bias. How do you react to that?

RONALD WILSON: Well, I don't accept it, and naturally we're very concerned about these reports and their source. But much of our concern will be met if and when the report is tabled in time for the National Reconciliation Convention to consider its recommendations and their implementation, at its convention next week. That is imperative that this report be in the public arena in time for that to happen, and the convention is limited to Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week, so we're looking forward to it being tabled not later than next Monday.

JULIE POSETTI: Do you think it was fair for government sources to accuse you of bias?

RONALD WILSON: Oh, that's for the Government to answer. I'm not going to enter into that. If anybody wishes to discuss my personal reputation or anything about me, that's a matter for them. I'm concentrating on the report and its importance to the people of Australia, to all the people of Australia, not just the Aboriginal people. This inquiry was quite exceptional. I went into it with virtually an uninformed mind of the history of separation, but from what I heard personally, stories that were told with great courage and emotion and the credibility of which could not be denied, I came to believe that the consequences of this policy of separation is still with us in so many vital ways, touching the health of this nation, that they must be brought into the open and they must be addressed, not only by governments - State, Territory and Federal - but by all the people of Australia, and reconciliation will simply be set back enormously, if not entirely frustrated, if this report is not available to the public soon. The Government have had it since the first week of April and we just are waiting for its release.

JULIE POSETTI: Well, according to the Opposition Aboriginal Affairs spokesman, Daryl Melham, the Government's deliberately trying to suppress the report. Do you suspect as much?

RONALD WILSON: No, I'm not prepared to accuse the Government of that. I have faith that the Government will act honourably in this matter, and that the delay in delivering the report has been brought about by the need for it to examine the report carefully and to consider the response that it will make when it tables the report.

JULIE POSETTI: Well, according to government leaks, a recommendation for compensation to be paid to Aboriginal people affected by past policies and a recommendation for a national day of mourning won't be supported by the Government. Given those leaks, what kind of reaction are you expecting when the document is finally tabled?

RONALD WILSON: I'm simply waiting for it to be tabled and to be tabled not later than next Monday and, when we hear what the Government has to say about it, we will respond then, but not before.

JULIE POSETTI: Well, you've obviously been personally affected by your role in this inquiry. What kind of reaction are you hoping for?

RONALD WILSON: I'm hoping that the Australian people, in the first place, will be willing to listen and read the report with open hearts and minds. It's not an intellectual report to be considered simply by the mind as a series of facts, it is very much a matter of the heart and what this has meant to human beings living in a family situation and to have that family fragmented, and for reunions to be delayed if they ... perhaps always and, at least for some decades, and for various other gross violations of their human rights. That couldn't help but change me and make me very sensitive to these events of the past and very convinced of the need for acknowledgment and the need for the Aboriginal people, not one family of which, we are told, has not been affected in one way or another by the separation policy. It's imperative that they should hear the Australian people, every Parliament, every church that had anything to do with the policy, and the body of Australian people to collectively say to their indigenous brothers and sisters, 'Look, we are sorry for this chapter in our past history and we are determined to do everything we can to heal the breach.'

JULIE POSETTI: There seems to be a lot of reluctance within government, though, to say the word 'sorry'. What do you think the consequences will be if, as a nation, we don't come to grips with this problem, and if there is no official apology?

RONALD WILSON: It will disappoint the hopes of many Aboriginal people who, with great difficulty, related their experiences and then they would end up, time and time again, when the question of compensation was raised, 'Oh, we don't care about money, but we would like to hear the Government say why they did it or why it was done, and that they are sorry.' Saying sorry is very important to Aboriginal people and it will do a great deal to help heal the relationship, for them to know that there is that acknowledgment and that there is that expression of regret.

JULIE POSETTI: And if the situation is mishandled by the Government, what will the consequences be for Australian society, given the current race debate surrounding Pauline Hanson's One Nation party?

RONALD WILSON: Well, I'm afraid that they will be unfortunate. This is a time when, more than ever, the Aboriginal people, Aboriginal Australians, need to hear some words of encouragement from the Government, and this report from the Federal Government, in particular, this report is a wonderful opportunity for the Federal Government to take hold of it and to sincerely and frankly say, 'Yes, we're sorry and we're going to bend our best efforts to overcome the dreadful consequences that are still with us and to heal this nation.'

JULIE POSETTI: Sir Ronald, thanks very much for your time.

RONALD WILSON: Thank you, Julie.

MONICA ATTARD: Sir Ronald Wilson, who's the President of the Human Rights Commission, speaking there to PM's Julie Posetti.