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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2417

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (11:25): Congratulations, Deputy Speaker Tehan, on your appointment to this role. It is an incredible privilege and honour for me to be speaking on this matter following on from the member for Hasluck, the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives. While we may disagree about how we advance our nation I am absolutely certain from my work with him on the health policy committee that we share a commitment to our nation. Certainly to have the power of an Indigenous voice in this place is something that has a great deal to do with the healing we need to undertake as we address the great shame of the stolen generation.

It is four years since the important speech given by former Prime Minister Rudd in the House of Representatives saying sorry for the structural and institutional injustice that we have perpetrated upon our own first peoples. I was very privileged to be able to attend an event convened by Minister Macklin to consider where we are in our remembering of that day and how we might move forward.

One of the most powerful things that I heard that day was a story, and that day reinforced how important stories are for us to put things on the record about the way things were so that we might never make the mistake of making that happen again. One of the stories that we heard was from Donna Meehan. She identified herself as a Gamilaraay woman from Coonamble in north-west New South Wales. She spoke about finding her family at the age of 28. The thing that touched me so powerfully in her testimony that day at our public remembrance was that she described the day when her mother, a mother of 11 children, lost seven of her babies—that seven of them were taken away at once.

But she also had a healing story to tell, which was very important to hear in her voice, because on the day that the apology happened, after hearing it and responding to it in her community, she decided to take a day trip to Brisbane. She spoke about going into three different places on that day trip. In the first place she was asked for her opinion. It made me feel very sad that this was an extraordinary experience for her, so much so that four years later she was willing to say that that was an important experience. She was applauded, with the people she was travelling with—her mob—at a cafe. The most telling of all, that shows there is so much work to do, is that she noticed on that day that she was served with equal dignity in a shop. So we did something significant on that day.

In looking to the future—and that is what we were asked to do—we need to think about how we move towards redressing the wrongs and making sure that we give ordinary Australians, our fellow Australians, our first Australians, the best chance of living a full and wholesome life as Australian citizens in this modern democracy. That is to look to the future.

I do want to put on the record before I finish—and I am not going to speak much longer; I know that there is pressure on time for key members here to move on and do other important work—that I was a little underwhelmed by the representation of the media on the day that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition gave very vivid, forthright and detailed speeches on Closing the Gap. This is a vital piece of work for all Australians to participate in. It is at the heart of the social justice initiative for members of all of the parties represented here. It is something much more worthy of attention in the media. I hope that next year when the Closing the Gap statement comes along the media is full to overbrimming, even more than they might be represented at question time, to cover this vital part of the way we move forward as a nation.

I want to commend two very important elements that I think are available to us as Australians right now as we learn more. One of them is a great pack that the federal government has funded. It has been sent to 5,250 schools and it is called Kutju Australia, which means Advance Australia. It is written in the Luritja language but the kit has been prepared so that we can all sing Advance Australia Fair in an Indigenous language and in English. Also, a very significant site was launched on the day, the Stolen Generation Testimonies site. People can google that site and have a look at what is going on. Debra Hocking, one of the survivors, points out:

There’s nothing more powerful than the personal story. For people to understand, we have to open ourselves up. It’s hard to tell our personal stories but we are doing this to educate people. For us to heal as a country these are the stories we need to share. They’re sad stories but they’re important stories. For me as a Stolen Generations’ Survivor, I know you don’t get over things.

She really asks for the stories to be read, and I encourage all teachers in all subjects to think about what they can do to open the young people of this country to those stories. I felt so moved by the stories that I read on the website that I put a little message on there myself, which is:

Congratulations on the wonderful launch of this important website today. I hope to speak in the parliament about my response to this the 4th anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generation. I believe in the healing power of stories, even the ones that are very difficult to tell. When I see you as separate from me I can ignore you, or fear you, or hurt you, or other you. But when I know your story you become my brother, my sister, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunty, my friend.

Stories shared reveal our unique journeys but they also reveal our common humanity. When we learn that lesson of compassion and kindness then we really do have a bright future. I want to put on the public record my thanks for the stories that are on the Stolen Generation Testimonies site and I want to applaud those who have put them there, including the director of the film series, for sharing them and for your courage in leading us to a better Australia.

Debate adjourned.