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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11657

Mr MARLES (Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry) (1:37 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker, what you have just heard—the stories of Steve Irons—are just a few among half a million: each just as sad, each just as powerful. Collectively they represent a well of pain and a great wrong which today our country acknowledged. The member for Blaxland, Jason Clare, gave thanks to a number of people who have been involved in the apology on this day and I add my voice in thanking Andrew Murray, Steve Irons, Abbie Clark, Corrie McKenzie, Caroline Caroll, Harold Haig, Ian Thwaites, Leonie Sheedy, Joanna Penglase and all the senators who heard the initial inquiry. I would also like to extend my thanks to Jason, whose wisdom and perseverance have been critical to this day. The journey that we have walked together has given me the gift of his friendship, which I cherish greatly. I would particularly like to thank the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, who has been devoted to this cause. I would like to thank the Leader of the Opposition for his dignified words today and I would like to thank the Prime Minister for giving the apology and accompanying it with a beautiful speech. It will change the lives of hundreds of thousands.

Today is Andrew Murray’s day. Today is Steve Irons’s day. Today is Rod Currie’s day. Today is Trish Sumic’s day. It is the day of half a million Australians. But it is also Joanna Penglase’s and Leonie Sheedy’s day. These two have been at the core of this. They were the driving force behind the Senate inquiry. They were the driving force behind today’s national apology. Their shoulders have provided support for a multitude of forgotten Australians. Their ears have heard a thousand stories and in the process they have provided relief. They are great Australians. They are an example of a truth that I have come to learn in all the work that I have done with the Care Leavers of Australia Network: that the forgotten Australians and child migrants as a people, having dealt with the greatest adversity at the outset of their lives, are a determined and courageous people. Amidst all that we do on this day it is so important that we honour and celebrate that fact, because the forgotten Australians and child migrants are wonderful Australians and our country is much the richer for their being among us.

I have spoken with many forgotten Australians over the last few weeks in the lead-up to today’s national apology. Naturally forgotten Australians deal with their childhood experience in different ways. There are some who carried it as a weeping sore into their adult life. Many talk of feeling ashamed when thinking about their childhood and of feeling embarrassed to tell their story. For these people the national apology has not come a day too soon. Then there are others who I have particularly spoken to and who have buried their childhood experience deep inside and have said to me how unexpectedly emotional they feel about today’s national apology. While they know that this is a moment of great national significance, a great national act, it is also an act that comes with pain. In all cases it has been impossible to talk to the forgotten Australians about today’s national apology without tears. In each case people talk of this day as being a new beginning.

And so to those forgotten Australians and child migrants who do feel ashamed about their childhood, all of us here say to you that you do not deserve to feel shame. The shame is upon your nation, and today it has been acknowledged. To those of you who feel embarrassed to tell your story, all of us say to you that your story, good and bad, now forms a part of the nation’s story, good and bad. And to those of you for whom today opens a door into a painful part of your heart: it is so vital that all Australians—in the weeks, months and years ahead—stand shoulder to shoulder with you to help the healing. To all the forgotten Australians and child migrants: for all the embraces that you did not receive in childhood today—with all its failings and inadequacies and in the knowledge that what was taken away can never be given back—we give, with the deepest sincerity of heart, an embrace at last from your country. Today we say to the forgotten Australians and child migrants: we will not forget what you have suffered; as a nation we are sorry, and what you have endured is no longer a dark secret but a period of history on record for all Australians to remember.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms JA Saffin)—I ask that members please rise to signify support for the motion.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Albanese) adjourned.