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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1018


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (17:16): I had the privilege this morning of meeting with the national Stolen Generations Alliance, who had a breakfast at which two speakers left an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of those who were in attendance. Both were taken as young children from their mothers and adopted. One ended up in Wales, the other in London. Both, throughout their lives, realised there was something different about them because they could not see any other cultural grouping that looked anything like theirs. Throughout that period, both came to the realisation that there would come a point in their lives when they would need to backtrack and have a look at where their families were. Both described their experiences of talking to their adopted families, the support they did and did not receive and of making the journey back to Australia.

Levon, when he came back, discovered where his biological parents were and where his brothers and sisters were. His reunion was much more challenging because there was a difference—or, as he described it, a brick wall—although he has been slowly working through those challenges. Leonie, on the other hand, was fortunate that she had a sister who left a letter on her Link-Up file with all the details of who her mother, father, brothers and sisters were and a point of contact, should she ever inquire. So when she came back to Australia she was able to make contact and re-establish the linkages with her family. She struggled, but she also appreciates the fact that she is now reunited with them.

When the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the apology in the House, as I have said previously in this chamber, he created a healing process that was absolutely critical to this nation. It was an acknowledgement of decisions and policies that had good intent, but their unintended consequences were greater and more far-reaching in the pain and grief that they caused. I had the privilege of meeting with the boys from Kinchela Boys Home in New South Wales and heard some of their stories. When you sit and listen to the emptiness they describe in their lives within the institution, you are left with a sense of what would have been their opportunities and pathways had they been with their families and not been institutionalised or not experienced the pain that they did.

In all of the stories that I have heard or read or that have been provided to me by elders and those who have been affected by the stolen generations, including my own mother, where bitterness prevailed it is replaced by forgiveness. There is a knowledge that there was recognition by the Prime Minister and the Australian parliament that the events that occurred to them were made known to Australian society. When I travelled overseas to Europe one of the things that came up constantly was people who would say that they were pleased. When I was in the Emirates I had comments that they respected the fact that there was an acknowledgement of the first nations people. I assume that is only because of the travel and business arrangements that prevail between countries, but it was certainly acknowledged in that context.

I want to read the charter of the Ngunawal elders. This morning I was given, with some pride, the stories of the Ngunawal people who were affected by the stolen generation and who were taken. One of the things I have always respected about our people, or our mob, is that we have a tremendous capacity to forgive when challenges have beset us. We have seen those challenges as points in time but we have always negotiated and moved on from where we have been. The charter says this:

Our Unity is a journey of healing. We have taken the first big step and along the path people will join with us (and leave) but everyone is welcome.

In welcoming people, we know the following to be true:

That our Elders have our respect. We are honoured by their giving respect back. We acknowledge them for assuming responsibility as leaders in our community.

We need to come together to create our future - one in which everyone has a place where they can feel proud, have dignity, and feel they belong.

That communication is everything and we do this in a supportive way to know more about each other, our history and our culture. These knowledges we make are ours together, although it belongs not only to us, but it’s also for our kids and grandkids too. And it is for them that we do this work now.

It takes courage to do work for the greater good. We need to learn how to solve problems, include not isolate, to listen with our hearts and speak from our souls.

In being courageous we are a direct link back to the Dreamtime. This is the essence of Aboriginality, as is our relationship to land.

In this Journey we strive for Unity. We do this by empowering people, creating confidence, self-esteem and room for difference so we can work and laugh together, moving forward all the while.

We, each and every one of us, want this; not only for ourselves and our families. We want this, too, for people who need it the most.

The Stolen Generations Alliance today brought together members of the stolen generation to talk about the future and to look at the opportunities that lie ahead in this great country of ours. They talked and shared the experience of the pain. But that pain is not an inhibitor to the way they want to see the knowledge of the past, and also the knowledge of the future and the directions we take, as equally that of all Australians in concert with the people of the first nations. It is about the way in which we create the opportunities.

In their statement, the Stolen Generations Working Partnership, they talk about the priority issues, the things that they want to see change so that we never have the past repeated on any group for any reason, and about respect, dignity and understanding. I would love to see universities around this country adopt 20 members of the stolen generation so that they are able to be part of the processes of lifelong learning, to be engaged in some of the forums and discussions that will occur around Indigenous affairs and to be able to tell a chapter within the history of Australia from a point of engagement, where people can seek to understand, ask questions and have answers. I must say that I enjoy a privileged position in this House because I do have members of this parliament from all parties at different times come and ask me questions about our people, our mob. They will say sometimes, 'Can I ask you a politically incorrect question?' But to me no question is politically incorrect if you are seeking to enhance your knowledge and to increase your understanding. I think in that sense there is a beauty in having members of the stolen generation working and being part of university life, because our greatest knowledge acquisition, other than the early years of our lives, certainly comes through the tertiary institutions which so many Australians attend, including overseas students. What a rich, living, cultural history they would participate and share in.

For the members of the stolen generation, in talking about accessing services equally across all areas consistently, I would certainly support the Closing the Gap measures because they do address the very issues that the stolen generation have continually raised. One of the challenges in Closing the Gap is that it is not uniform across the nation; it is not uniform in terms of urban, rural and remote areas. Nevertheless, there is a focus on some very critical areas, but we have still have much to do. They talk about the greater awareness needed across government and non-government agencies. The former Prime Minister said, 'If we are not finding solutions to the problems then maybe there is a better way that we need to do business.' Certainly the stolen generation have put forward the proposition on several occasions that they want to be equal partners. They want to be there to help shape the future, the services and the access to what is offered to all Australians, not just through Indigenous moneys, because, as a society, in government we provide for all regardless of their location. We should ensure that there is continuity and access to government services. I deliberately use the term 'government services' because 'mainstream services' has, I think, a connotation around it, whereas any service provided by a government is provided to the citizens of that nation and that country and certainly within the jurisdictions.

They have been very strong in helping to heal those whose pain and grief is still problematic. If you want to read a piece of research that is significant and really highlights that intergenerational impact, I commend to members a report written by the Western Australian Institute of Child Health Research, under the leadership of Professor Fiona Stanley. The WA Aboriginal Child Health Survey went beyond something like 4,000 families. The last chapter of that social and emotional wellbeing publication deals with the impact on children of members of the stolen generation, and it highlights the aspect of mental illnesses and the debilitating impact that caring for somebody from the stolen generation has had on them and their likelihood of success in other areas. I know that, when we produced that chapter and provided it to the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth agency at the time asked for empirical data and evidence that our findings had some substance to them. But the report certainly showed that, when you look after somebody who has been traumatised or who has been significantly hurt, where there is both an emotional and a psychological scar both within the mind and on the heart, there are some subsequent flow-on effects from that.

I would hope that, as governments prevail for at least the next decade, we set some long-term vision around how we can reach all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. When we think that there are only 700,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, we break them into family units and that reduces the number. But, if we take the concept that 25 per cent of Aboriginal families are in working environments where the income is sustained through jobs, it means that we really have to focus on only 75 per cent. When you consider that number in the context of government services, we should alleviate those pressure points around education, justice, health and other government services, including housing. I want to acknowledge all of those members of the stolen generation. The National Stolen Generations Alliance supports the implementation of the recommendations from the Bringing them home report. The report's introduction in part states:

For individuals, their removal as children and the abuse they experienced at the hands of the authorities or their delegates have permanently scarred their lives. The harm continues in later generations, affecting their children and grandchildren.

It then goes on to say:

In no sense has the Inquiry been ‘raking over the past’ for its own sake. The truth is that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. That devastation cannot be addressed unless the whole community listens with an open heart and mind to the stories of what has happened in the past and, having listened and understood, commits itself to reconciliation.

Walking and working together and in unity mend what was the past but build for a future that strengthens our nation.