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Tuesday, 27 February 2018
Page: 2156

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (16:51): I was fortunate enough to have the honour to be in the federal parliament the day Kevin Rudd expressed his apology on behalf of the nation to the stolen generations. There's no doubt it was a euphoric occasion, marked on the one hand by great sadness but on the other by happiness that at last the nation had come to terms with the abhorrent and sorry policies of past governments. The hideousness of it all, of course, was that we had to wait so long and the fact that the previous Howard government just resisted the idea of having an apology, saying sorry and talking about a black armband view of history. Those of us who had the honour of being there that day, and those around the nation, saw the tears of expression coming from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were members of the stolen generation and their families, which left us, I think, feeling that things had changed. And things did change, but still there is work to be done. I will come to that in a moment. We can't run away from our sorry history. We shouldn't run away from our sorry history. We need to acknowledge that history and understand there is still work to be done and that. In the context of the Northern Territory in particular and, indeed, the ACT and Jervis Bay, we the Commonwealth need to compensate those surviving members of the stolen generation—something which we in Labor are committed to doing.

Let's just go back a bit, if I may, to remind ourselves that between the 1890s and the 1970s Aboriginal children were stolen from their families. It included many families where one parent was an Aboriginal person. Between 1905 and 1969, it's estimated that one in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were stolen. Over the years of these policies, it's estimated that over 2,000 Aboriginal kids in the Northern Territory were removed from their families by government officers and taken to seven different missions. Throughout all of this period, the Northern Territory was governed by the Commonwealth. Children were removed from their families at any age, but between one-half to two-thirds of children forcibly removed were taken before the age of five. Can you just imagine it? If you are a parent, can you have in your mind the horror of children being taken without consultation, without agreement, without any reasonable approach, without concession, and the parents and mothers, in particular, left without hope?

Sadly, this was the plight of far too many, and we're still wearing the consequences of that: the intergenerational trauma that exists in families where parents—and grandparents, for that matter—were stolen. Children were taken away and trained to be domestic servants. They were cheap labour. Many were abused emotionally and sexually. One in six girls ran away, one in 11 girls became pregnant while apprenticed and one in 12 died. All of this was because of abhorrent racism. No other explanation is required.

This was about smoothing the pillow of the dying race. It was a classic assimilationist policy post the Second World War. Today in the Northern Territory we estimate there are around 400 surviving members of the stolen generations. One of those about whom I want to speak briefly is Barbara Cummings, who, 35 years ago, along with others, was a primary mover for and instigator of a conference at Kormilda College, at which I was present, the first occasion that members of the stolen generations from across the Northern Territory were brought together. This was very important. It led to the long road home. Barbara was responsible for a book, Take this child: from Kahlin Compound to the Retta Dixon Children's Home, about the story of children in institutions in the Territory where she and many of her friends were institutionalised. Barbara fought her whole adult life to have stolen generations properly recognised by governments of all political persuasions, and for not just symbolism but compensation. Sadly, much to our disgrace, she wasn't present at the Rudd apology here in this parliament, which was such an important event in our history. Also, sadly, Barbara is now in declining health. I'd like to hope that this government has the good grace to finally pass an act for compensation for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, the ACT and Jervis Bay who were stolen, whilst she's able to understand what we're doing. Surely to goodness we can do that. I plead to the government: why don't you just do it?

There are many other members of the stolen generation with whom I am very close, some of whom have passed away in the struggle, taking the Commonwealth to the High Court. People like—I won't mention their full names—Mr Kruger, Ms Cubillo and Mr Gunner lost their cases. Others, such as Harold Thomas in the Top End and Harold Furber in Central Australia, are still fighting for the recognition that members of the stolen generation so properly deserve. I know of others, one of whom was my own staff member, a non-Aboriginal person, Jack Crosby, who, with his partner, Sue Roman, was primarily involved in instigating a case where the children from Retta Dixon, as a result of the royal commission into child abuse, were able to take the Commonwealth to court over its failure of duty of care. That, to my knowledge, was the only occasion where members of the stolen generations in the Northern Territory have had their case recognised in this question of duty of care and been compensated as a result of a court ruling—really quite important. It was not volunteered by the Commonwealth, I might say, much to our disgrace, but something so very important to them. Sadly, Jack passed away not too long ago, but he was a very close personal friend.

I am pleased to say that the Shorten Labor team have committed ourselves to establishing a compensation scheme for survivors of the stolen generations in Commonwealth jurisdictions. That compensation scheme will provide an ex gratia payment of $75,000. We'll also establish a funeral assistance fund of $7,000 to assist members of the stolen generation with the cost of funerals. We will also establish a $10 million national healing fund to support healing for the stolen generations and their families in recognition of the intergenerational effects of forced removal, something which is yet to be properly understood by the majority of the population but which comes home to me almost daily. To try and respond to the unacceptably high rates of children of First Nations peoples currently in out-of-home care, the Shorten Labor government will convene a national summit on First Nations children in our first 100 days. These are very, very important initiatives that I'm very proud to associate myself with.

In many respects, for many they've come too late because so many of the stolen generations have passed. But it is not too late for us as a nation to finish the journey that we've embarked upon as a result of the apology. I want to acknowledge the leadership of Kevin Rudd at the time of the apology and reiterate how sad it is that we had to wait so long for that recognition. It's not a question of understanding or accepting a black armband view of history; it's about acknowledging our past; understanding the absurdity, the stupidity, the danger and the cruelty of past government policies; and accepting that we as a Commonwealth are responsible and that as a responsible Commonwealth we should legitimately pay compensation to those who were affected.