Page 231 - Week 01 - Thursday, 14 February 2008

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would also like to share the joy that I felt when the Prime Minister led the country in expressing, I think quite eloquently, the way we all felt yesterday.

A member of the federal parliament was quoted in the paper this morning as saying, “In the morning nothing will change.” I think that member was very, very wrong. Many things changed in this country this morning because of the way in which the Prime Minister said, simply, sorry to all of those people who had had such evil perpetrated upon them for all those years.

I do not subscribe to the notion that children may have been better off. I do not subscribe to the theory that the policy was for the benefit of Aboriginal children. This policy was a pogrom. This was a policy designed to eliminate the Indigenous peoples of Australia; this was a policy to eliminate the longest continuous culture in the history of mankind; and this was a policy to finally conquer this land.

Even if my understanding or my appreciation of it is not acknowledged by others, I think we all need to acknowledge the mother’s pain in the wrenching of her children from her breast. The arrival of police to kidnap children never to be seen again is a horror only to be imagined. It is a national tragedy and a national shame. History is written by people who would rather have a rosy visage about it, but there is nothing.

I can recall marching with many people expressing concern—personal concern. I can remember talking to people who were the stolen generation people. Mr Speaker, I have had this feeling in my heart for quite a long time, but I did not have a picture in my mind’s eye when I closed my eyes. I will tell you the picture that I had the day before yesterday, Mr Speaker. I had a picture of three young girls going home—from the film Rabbit Proof Fence. For me, that film put reality around the feelings that I had. I can now close my eyes and see it. And I have other images now, and the images are of yesterday. This is a magnificent piece of history and I am very glad to be part of it.

I want to clarify what is in my view the reason why we needed to make an apology and why our political leaders needed to say, “I’m sorry.” We all know that Indigenous people—along with people from Africa, north Africa, Europe, America and all the other continents—have a notion of family. Consider, if you will, the notion of family guilt and family responsibility. What happens quite frequently around the world—it happens here in Australia and it happens particularly in Indigenous communities—is that, once an evil is perpetrated on a member of that community, the family of the perpetrator bear the responsibility as much as the actual perpetrator does until such time as atonement is made. Atonement can be made in a number of ways. It can be by the family dealing with the perpetrator. But if no atonement is made, the responsibility for that evil is carried onward for generation after generation after generation.

People can say, “Well, I was not there. It had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t born then. Why should I apologise?” The reason why one should is that the family bears the responsibility and it is a family responsibility for that atonement. The Prime Minister apologised to the Indigenous community on behalf of the family of Australians and now, I hope, has gone a long way to reuniting us all—or at least uniting us all, because we were not united before: uniting us all as a family. The Prime Minister has now started the process—really started the process—of atonement.

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