Page 228 - Week 01 - Thursday, 14 February 2008

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of my toes up to my head filled every part of my body—so hot. That was my first feeling of love and it only could come from my mum. I was so happy and that was the last time I got to see her. When my mum passed away, I went to her funeral, which is stupid because I’m allowed to go see her at her funeral but I couldn’t have that when she requested me. They wouldn’t let me have her.

She was removed in 1967, and the witness’s mother died two years after their first and only meeting. The following quote was read in the national parliament yesterday; it spoke to me and I think it is worth repeating. It is a quote from Faye, who was taken when she was eight:

It was very hurtful to leave Dad. Oh it broke my heart. Dad said to me, “It’s hard for daddy and the authorities won’t let you stay with me in a tent on the riverbank. You’re a little girl and you need someone to look after you.” I remember him telling us that, and I cried. I said, “No, but Dad, you look after us” … But they kept telling us it wasn’t the right thing.

As the father of an eight-year-old son, reading this breaks my heart. These are only two examples of a heart wrenching saga and, dare I say, a blight on our national historical landscape. That is why the right thing to do now as a nation is indeed to say sorry to the stolen generation. This is the Australian thing to do.

It was right for the Assembly to say sorry in 1997. It was right that our national parliament said sorry yesterday. It is right that we as an Assembly now reaffirm our apology. While we as a nation have much to be proud of, it is right that we acknowledge parts of our past which were wrong. The policy of removal of Aboriginal children was part of a broader attitude of racism reflected in the White Australia policy, and all that it entailed. We should not forget that it was only in the 1960s that Indigenous Australians were given the same legal rights as non-Indigenous Australians. They were finally recognised as Australians.

We cannot run away from that. We should, however, acknowledge that we have grown as a nation. We are no longer the nation of White Australia. We have learned, and we must continue to learn, from our mistakes. We must move forward. An apology is part of that process. Offering an apology also reflects how far we have come as a nation. There is more to this apology than simply saying sorry.

I do share the views of Noel Pearson, when he argues that, while saying sorry is crucially important for those of the stolen generation, it is imperative that we see substantive and practical outcomes delivered for, and by, Indigenous Australians. Saying sorry, by itself, will not address the scourge of substance abuse in Indigenous communities; nor will it rectify the poor health outcomes of many Indigenous Australians; nor will it provide meaningful employment for Indigenous fathers to enable them to provide for their families.

As community leaders, we need—in fact, we must—see this apology as an initial step, and a mechanism to allow us jointly to move positively forward and to work together with our Indigenous people and, once and for all, to leave the past behind. Saying sorry must translate into meaningful action and a series of substantive outcomes to address Indigenous disadvantage. If this does not occur, saying sorry will become a piece of political theatre with no real, substantive foundation.

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