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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 14 February 2008) . . Page.. 232 ..

We saw gestures of reconciliation with the return of sacred lands to people; we have seen the way in which we have had conversation with the Indigenous community. But we have not atoned for all of the atrocities from 1788 onwards, the most heinous of which was the removal of children from their parents. That, I can only imagine, would be worse than death itself for those parents. Now we are at a position where we can say, “I am sorry for that.”

The role of political leaders is the same as that of family elders. In our Indigenous communities, the elders’ voice speaks on behalf of their clan or their tribe. We are elected representatives. We are the elders of the family that constitutes the ACT—we here. The federal parliament is the elders of the family of Australians generally. It is up to the elders to atone for the atrocities of previous generations. That is why I applaud the Prime Minister, I applaud the Chief Minister and I applaud the former Chief Minister for doing this.

I would also like to applaud the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Seselja, for a comment which I think has needed some underscoring. He said, “We ask the Indigenous peoples for forgiveness.” We can say “I am sorry” for ever, but we have to humbly seek their forgiveness. We should not expect it; we will not get it if we expect it. If we humbly seek their forgiveness, the expression “I am sorry for these wrongs of the family” will have meaning for these Indigenous people—and it will have meaning for us. Whilst our pain does not come within a skerrick of the pain felt by Indigenous peoples, the feeling of guilt weighs very heavily on a lot of people’s hearts. I believe that the humble and genuine request for forgiveness will go a long way to alleviate that guilt. But we have to atone for these evils.

I am particularly pleased to support this motion. I think it is wonderful that we will have such a multipartisan approach.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (11.05): Let me, too, start by repeating the word which finally made it onto the political agenda yesterday but which, sadly, has not made it into this revised version of the motion. I refer to the word “sorry”. Sorry, sorry.

Yesterday a whole nation said sorry. Yes, the word was uttered even on behalf of those who fed on Howard’s politics of resentment and who, in righteous anger, apparently blitzed the shock jocks on talkback radio yesterday. Like the vandals who painted racist comments on Gugan Gulwan youth centre a few weeks ago, such people are already sounding simply ungracious and emotionally dwarfed, unable to make the leap that will be just as good for their healing as for the Indigenous people of this country.

Under the politics of resentment, the idea prevailed that if someone was given something—even if it was just empathy expressed in a word—there was going to be less for someone else—even if that was just empathy. But yesterday, as we saw, the dominant discourses changed, leaving behind the Pauline Hansonites who believe that they suffer when compassion and empathy towards original Australians is expressed. Brendan Nelson realises this; even Mal Brough acknowledges it.

The journey of healing for the stolen generation of Aboriginal people has begun. Those of us who sat on Parliament House’s lawns yesterday realised that this is a journey that we are all on to our mutual benefit.

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