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Thursday, 21 November 2013
Page: 1098


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (10:10): I rise today to remember a very significant moment in the history of our nation. On 16 November 2009, thousands of Australians came together here in Parliament House to witness our former Prime Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, deliver the national apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants. I am so pleased to be joined here in the chamber today by the member for Jagajaga, who was the then minister for this area, and also the member for Swan. They both did an enormous amount of work in ensuring that we could bring this apology to the Australian parliament.

This past weekend was the fourth anniversary of the apology. I was fortunate enough to be able to join the Care Leavers Australia Network as they reflected on the significance of the long-awaited recognition of the pain and suffering that was inflicted upon both children who were taken from their families and placed in institutions and children who were sent to our country without consent.

16 November 2009 was the day when Australians gathered together to finally acknowledge the horrific wrongs and injustices committed against these individuals in the past, many of whom were deprived of their childhoods and many of whom suffered abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them. It was the day when Australians gathered together to say sorry to these individuals who were profoundly harmed in what was a shameful period in our nation's past. It was the day when Australians gathered together to hear their stories so that the mistakes of the past would never be repeated.

I want to take a moment to remember some of the words of this apology that were so poignant for so many Australians:

Sorry - that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.

Sorry - for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.

Sorry - for the tragedy of childhoods lost - childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work.

Sorry - for all these injustices to you as children, who were placed in our care.

I strongly believe that it is important that we recognise these tragic events and that we also recognise the lasting trauma that they have caused to so many.

The formal national apology was a critical first step towards healing for so many Australians. The previous federal government also introduced a range of measures aimed at meeting the needs of the recipients of the apology, including historical projects to ensure stories of care leavers are never forgotten, a family-tracing service for care leavers and continued funding for advocacy groups. That is to name a few.

These measures are significant, but I do know that many advocacy and support groups for care leavers feel that more still needs to be done. Importantly, they feel that we should never ever forget these Australians again. To echo the national apology, sadly we cannot give back the lost childhoods, nor can we undo the suffering of the past. But I say to care leavers around the country that what we can do and what we will do is continue to raise awareness about this as an issue and the unique experience that care leavers had and the trauma that was caused to ensure that we always advocate for additional support and services for these individuals.

While this is an occasion for acknowledging a dark part of our history as a nation, I also believe it is very important to recognize and celebrate the incredible spirit of those who have survived and the work that they do to ensure that this does not happen to another child in the future. I have to say that, if this was something that had happened to me, I do not know if I would have had the courage to stand up and say that I would work tirelessly to put in place things to ensure that it would not happen again.

Groups like CLAN—and there are many of them out there—are to be acknowledged and commended for the impressive work they have done over many years and that they continue to do, not just in advocacy, which has been very important, but also in the support they provide. It is important, and I would like to thank the member for Jagajaga, who is here, for her work with the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in establishing the royal commission. This is a very important step where we can actually give people a voice and let their stories be heard. It is an important step into the future.

On this fourth anniversary, it is important that we do not forget these Australians, the forgotten Australians, that we remember the wrongs of the past and that we make a commitment not to repeat them into the future. (Time expired)