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Thursday, 2 December 2021
Page: 7103


Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (13:00): I rise to speak in support of this bill, the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, and the related bill, the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme (Facilitation) Bill 2021. I start by welcoming the introduction of a Stolen Generations Redress Scheme for the areas of the Commonwealth where children were removed from their families. These bills are long overdue and Labor hopes to see their speedy and effective implementation. I'm grateful that the government has adopted what has been a very important and longstanding Labor commitment to redress for the members of the stolen generation taken from families in Commonwealth jurisdictions. Labor took a stolen generations reparations commitment to the last election on very similar terms to the bill before the Senate today.

For more than 60 years after 1910, Australian governments took children from their homes in the wrong attempt to assimilate them into white society. It was the Bringing them home report, published more than 24 years ago, which elevated the experiences of the individuals affected by this policy, documenting the harrowing testimonies and submissions about the removal and institutionalisation of First Nations children. These testimonies revealed the destructive impact of the child removal policy, which did not only go on for decades but also affected families across multiple generations. In one testimony, Evie, a stolen generation member from the Northern Territory, told the royal commission how the removal of children from her family had started with her grandmother, how it had continued across four generations, causing permanent scarring to so many lives, and how it had ingrained a loss of trust in the public institutions whose first duty is to protect. It's a harrowing retelling, and I hope I can give it the voice her story deserves.

Evie's grandmother was taken from Tennant Creek to The Bungalow at Alice Springs, a state home for First Nations children taken from their families, where she had two children—Evie's mum and Evie's uncle—to the Aboriginal Protection Officer. Evie's grandmother said she had no say in that and she was only 14 years old. Evie says:

When she was 15 and a half they took her to Hermannsburg and married her up to an Aranda man. That's a no-no.

… when Mum was 3, they ended up taking Mum from Hermannsburg, putting her in The Bungalow until she was 11. And then they sent her to Mulgoa mission in New South Wales. From there they sent her to Carlingford Girls' Home to be a maid.

Evie's mum tried to get back to the Northern Territory. She had a little baby and she wanted to get home, but she had no money because she wasn't being paid. Evie told the royal commission that her mum just kept asking the authorities for her wages. When initially refused, in the end the authorities told Evie's mother she would get her wages but needed to leave her baby behind. So she left her baby—Evie's brother—and went back to the Northern Territory, where she had Evie and four other children. Each child was taken away almost as they were born and sent south for adoption.

Evie tells us:

One of them came back in 1992. He just has that many problems. The others - we don't know where they are. So it's like we've still got a broken family.

I was taken away in 1950 when I was 6 hours old from hospital and put into Retta Dixon until I was 2 months old and then sent to Garden Point. I lived in Garden Point until 1964.

Of her time at Garden Point, Evie says:

… I always say that some of it was the happiest time of my life; others it was the saddest time of my life. The happiest time was, 'Yippee! all these other kids there'. You know, you got to play with them every day. The saddest times were the abuse. Not only the physical abuse, the sexual abuse by the priests over there. And they were the saddest because if you were to tell anyone, well, the priests threatened that they would actually come and get you.

… And just every day you used to get hidings with the stock-whip. Doesn't matter what you did wrong, you'd get a hiding with the stock-whip.

…   …   …

In 1977 I had three children. … All those kids were taken off me. The reason behind that was, well, I'd asked my girl-friend and so-called sister-in-law if she could look after my kids … while I was in hospital for three months …

I couldn't get my kids back when I came out of hospital. And I fought the welfare system for ten years and still couldn't get 'em. I gave up after ten years. …

And with my daughter, well she came back in '88 but things just aren't working out there. She blames me for everything that went wrong. She's got this hate about her - doesn't want to know. The two boys know where I am but turned around and said to us, 'You're not our mother - we know who our real mother is'.

So every day of your bloody life you just get hurt all the time …

So even now these past policies continue to have a devastating effect on the lives of Stolen Generations members and their families.

It was the final Bringing them home report that included a recommendation on the need for reparation, because it is the act of reparation that is the measure of genuine reconciliation and healing. The report also recommended a national apology from the Australian government. In February 2008, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered on that recommendation and apologised—13½ years ago. In his apology, the former Prime Minister properly recognised the systemic abuses inflicted upon members of the Stolen Generations. The apology was a very important first step in formally recognising the extent of the pain and suffering inflicted upon the Stolen Generations. It served as a powerful acknowledgement of the past and opened the door for the reparations we see in this bill today. As a parliament and as a country we had failed, and we had failed one of the most important duties that we can have as a country: to do no harm to our children. Kevin Rudd's National Apology to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the country and the parliament was a powerful recognition of that fact.

There are current members of this Senate who were present for that apology, and I hope I can speak for everyone here today when I say that we all remain truly sorry.