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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (26 May) . . Page.. 528 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

I was also interested to see last night on television Aboriginal and Islander people making statements to the effect that this is not about feeling guilty; this is about being sorry and moving on. I think that is where the hope lies. I think it is something that, as Australians, we can all be proud of.

I hope that, in fact, we will see the sentiments expressed in an apology actually supported by governments in terms of their policies for direct service provision to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because there is no doubt that they are still a very marginalised and disadvantaged group in our society. We have to follow up our symbolic gestures and our apologies with policies which actually support what we are saying. I do look forward to seeing, in the next budget, a recognition of that from Mrs Carnell.

MS CARNELL (Chief Minister and Treasurer) (10.36): Mr Speaker, I think all of us today acknowledge those members of the indigenous community that were removed from their families. As we know, this Assembly has already said sorry to those people for their removal from their families. It was on this day just 12 months ago that the Bringing them home report was tabled in Federal Parliament. In response to the report, the ACT Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a motion formally apologising to the Ngunnawal people and other indigenous people in the ACT for the hurt and distress inflicted upon any people as a result of the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The motion also assures the indigenous and non-indigenous members of the ACT community that the ACT Legislative Assembly regards the past practices of forced separation as abhorrent, and that the Assembly expresses sincere determination that such practices will not happen in the ACT.

There are a lot of people who believe that they should not say sorry because they were not responsible for taking children from their mothers' arms. To these people I say that "sorry" does not have to imply guilt or blame. It is possible to say sorry to people because you feel for their pain. Very few of us could understand the feelings of those children at being taken away from their families or the feelings of parents whose children were taken. Few of us can know the pain or the suffering they endured. But, Mr Speaker, we can be sorry that it ever happened and we can and must acknowledge that what happened was not acceptable and that we must be prepared to help and be part of the healing process.

Others argue that removing indigenous children from their families was in the best interests of the children; yet the Bringing them home report is full of stories of children being physically, mentally and emotionally abused by those responsible for their care. How could this treatment be in the best interests of the child? I thank those people who have bravely told their stories - some in this place - so that we all can understand a little bit better and know the truth.

We in the Legislative Assembly were honoured - I was and I am sure others were - when members of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities came before the bar of the Assembly to tell their stories. We were told stories of children being separated from their families, of life in foster care, of years of searching for mothers and fathers, and of a continuous fight for recognition of their cultural identity.

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