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Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Page: 10845

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (18:22): Before he leaves, I thank the member for Swan for his contribution today and over the decade he has been in parliament, highlighting, as he did in his maiden speech, issues that have been addressed now and for which we apologised yesterday. I say thank you most sincerely—and for your work with the reference group and with your colleagues, particularly the member for Newcastle, who I think has done a sterling job as well—but you in particular, because of your own background, have made a significant impact on this place and you should understand that, so thank you.

Yesterday we were privileged to be part of that historic apology from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition from the parliament on behalf of the nation. I was here when Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations, and yesterday we saw another significant day in our parliament's history. As others have pointed out, it shows the best in us. Despite the battle that goes on outside and inside the parliament on a daily basis over the political differences that we have, make, construct or connive, we have it in our hearts to talk as one when it comes to issues like this on the care of Australian children. I think it needs to be acknowledged that, whilst it's historic, it's not unprecedented. It is important that the Australian community sees that this parliament is as one in accepting its responsibility to undertake the work initiated by Prime Minister Gillard which yesterday came to its conclusion with this fantastic apology, a moving occasion affecting tens of thousands of Australians. As the member for Swan said, it's now time for those people to move forward and see that they are loved by us all, for us to reflect upon our role in this place and elsewhere in the community around them and for us show our support for them and our love for them.

In the last 12 months, I went to my 50th anniversary of leaving school. Now, you could say—looking at me—'How could that be?' But, nevertheless, it was. It was at a school here in Canberra, a Christian Brothers school, and there were about 40 of us in attendance. We'd been to school together. About 11 of them or thereabouts had started primary school together and another significant proportion had started at another school and joined us in 4th class so we went through school together. At this reunion, we were discussing the issue of abuse of children. One of our number said, 'Look, we must visit the change rooms.' So we said, 'Well, we will,' because the change rooms were where the children were molested. So we walked down through the building to the change rooms, which were no longer used, to the place in which at least one of our number of that day was abused. It was a cathartic experience. As it happens, a couple of the teachers from that period were then prosecuted for their behaviour. But I had no idea about the extent of this abuse at my school, yet here it was in front of us and it was a cathartic experience. So when we saw yesterday this welling of emotion, of love and support, I thought that there would be many more Australians who have never reported their abuse, who will never disclose their unease, who have never disclosed the pain and the suffering that they've endured for many years.

Sadly, of course, as others have said, many of those who were abused have now passed. Many abusers have now passed. The fact is, there are many who still live with the pain and suffering, the hurt, the ignominy of being abused. As I've said in this place previously, there are many, many Australians who have suffered as a result of the perversity and the horrendous victimisation by abusers and suffered the depravity of the abuse perpetrated upon them. As a parent, I can't imagine how that could possibly be yet we know it to be.

I want to make reference to a particular group of people. They are people in the Northern Territory hit by the double whammy of being members of the stolen generations in the first place and then being abused in one of the homes they were sent to on behalf of the Commonwealth government, homes such as the Croker Island Mission, the Garden Point Mission, the Kahlin Compound, Retta Dixon Home, Emerald Hill Mission, St Mary's near Alice Springs racecourse, the Bungalow at the Old Telegraph Station at Alice Springs. Thousands, literally, of young people were taken to these places. Between 1905 and 1969, it's estimated that one in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were stolen. Think about it. Some have received compensation as a result of a court action taken by residents of Retta Dixon Home as a direct result of the royal commission. They were able to take the Commonwealth to court because of a lack of a duty of care. That's not for everyone who suffered because of the lack of a duty of care; a particular group of people at one home were compensated for the abuse they suffered when the Commonwealth was their carer.

It seems to me we have a number of things yet unfinished in this place, one of which is to compensate members of the stolen generations, for being members of the stolen generations—for having been stolen. I'm proud to say that Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party are committed to that process. Yesterday I met quite a few members of the stolen generations who were here for the apology—for the emotion, the support. I want to thank them for coming here and allowing us to be part of their lives.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr McVeigh ): I thank the member for Lingiari for his contribution. It being 6.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192(b). The debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.