Page 227 - Week 01 - Thursday, 14 February 2008

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Mr Speaker, I ask the members present here to support this motion of reaffirmation in the spirit in which the original apology was tendered in this place more than a decade ago.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (10.42): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in favour of this motion. Yesterday was indeed a historical moment—a moment well overdue but, more importantly, an opportunity to start afresh, a time to rebuild lives and an opening for true reconciliation.

I have followed this debate for many years, first as a law student, then as a father and husband and now as a member of parliament. I have listened to all the arguments and made judgements about what I believe to be true. But while I have weighed up the legal, social and financial ramifications of making an apology to the stolen generation, one point continued to resonate louder than any other—that this is the right thing to do. It is the human thing to do. When we see people hurt, our natural response is to tell them we are sorry.

The Bringing them home report makes for shocking reading. It shocked our collective consciousness as a nation. As a territory, we took an important first step with an apology led by the then Liberal leader and Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, in 1997. There is no doubt that there has been dispute over why and how such things were ever able to happen. Today is not the day to dwell on this but simply to acknowledge that great injustices have occurred, that many children were taken from their families and that many of these were taken simply because of their race. That was wrong. Those actions caused profound sorrow, distress and anguish for those involved. To them, we say sorry. To their parents, we say sorry. To their communities, we say sorry.

As a parent, it is impossible for me to imagine the anguish of parents who had their children forcibly removed from them. As a son, it is impossible for me to imagine the trauma of a child taken from their parents. As a human being, it is not difficult for me to see how these experiences would leave an indelible mark on those subjected to it. The word “sorry” does not seem too much in these circumstances; in fact, it seems the least that can be done.

There are those in the community who would say: “Why should this generation take responsibility for the wrongful acts of the past? It’s not my fault.” While it is true that individuals of this generation are not personally responsible, it is also true that we in this generation enjoy the benefits of what was put in place by previous generations. It is therefore reasonable for our generation to choose also to take ownership of the bad things in our past. It is time for us to take responsibility.

It is worth highlighting a couple of statements which encapsulate the pain of separation which past policies and practices have caused. Confidential evidence 139 reads as follows:

When I first met my mother—when I was 14—she wasn’t what they said she was. They made her sound like she was stupid, you know, they made her sound so bad. And when I saw her she was so beautiful. Mum said, “My baby’s been crying” and she walked into the room and she stood there and I walked into my—I walked into my mother and we hugged and this hot, hot rush from the tip

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