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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11784

Ms NEAL (4:09 PM) —I rise to speak on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants. This historic apology begins the process of healing for more than 500,000 Australians who suffered as foster children in orphanages, children’s homes and in other institutions around Australia. The full significance of this suffering is brought home most tellingly by the sheer number of people affected and this is shocking.

The personal stories heard today, in the foyer of parliament, were extremely affecting. Today I had the privilege to hear the harrowing life story of one of my constituents, Sharyn Killens, who lived through juvenile detention at both Parramatta Girls Home and the equally notorious Hay Girls Institution. Sharyn’s story is one of heartbreaking separation from family. It is also a story of triumph over great adversity. For decades she knew nothing of her father. Her mother was unable, or unwilling, to share any details. After 40 years, Sharyn found out that he was an African-American serviceman stationed in Australia after World War II. In 1996, after eight years of searching, she was finally united with her brothers and sisters in America, but tragically her father had already passed away.

Today I attended the national apology along with Sharyn and many hundreds of people who suffered terrible neglect and abuse while in the care of institutions. There were many tears but also many old friendships reignited in what was a very emotional ceremony. Sharyn spoke to me not from a backward-looking sense of bitterness at the fate she was subjected to, although she had every reason to be bitter. Instead she talked of the national apology as a chance for the people of Australia to embark upon a healing process. She said the apology would be seen as a wake-up call to the nation. ‘Australia,’ she said, ‘must now ensure that the human rights of all children in institutions—past, present and future—are protected.’

Sharyn is now a well-known singer and entertainer. She has spent two years with author and fellow entertainer Lindsay Lewis writing Sharyn’s biography, entitled The Inconvenient Child, a harrowing but triumphant account of her life. She featured recently on ABC Television’s The 7.30 Report. I commend Minister Jenny Macklin and the Rudd Labor government for initiating the national apology to the forgotten Australians. Every indication today is that it is a great moment for our nation.