Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 14 February 2008) . . Page.. 244 ..
commissioned, the first Aboriginal member of the Australian defence forces to be a native commissioned officer, in 1944.
Reg could not get a drink in a pub when he got back from active service. Reg had an impeccable war record; he would not have been commissioned otherwise, in extraordinary circumstances at that time because of prejudice against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Reg went on to become a captain. He fought in the battle of Kapyong, one of the greatest victories of Australian armed forces in any war. Yet this great Australian soldier was not allowed, because of his race, because of his colour, to drink in a pub. I think that says a lot.
We have moved a long way since then. Much more work still needs to be done. It needs to be done by the commonwealth, the states, territories, local councils and individuals in our local communities—by all of us, whatever race, colour or creed we may be.
Saying sorry today is still not the end of it. It is an important, historic step; it is something that has to be done; it is something that is right and proper to be done; it is something all of us here today are saying unreservedly; and it will go a long way in terms of the healing process. But it is not the end of it. It is a critical step along the road to true and real reconciliation. There is much more we as a nation and a community and as individuals need to do, but this is another milestone in doing what is right and proper. I wholeheartedly join in supporting this most important motion.
MRS BURKE (Molonglo) (11.51): I was not born in this wonderful country, of course, and I have not grown up with the full history of what happened in the early days of white settlement. I cannot pretend to now fully appreciate what went on. I think Mr Smyth was quite right: we all need to get a deeper appreciation of what went on in order that we can move forward. I only heard stories of what went on and they increased over these weeks and months leading up to what the now new federal government promised that they would do.
What I do know is that in my compassion for the Aboriginal community I am deeply sorry—deeply sorry to the many Aboriginal friends that I have, whose company I enjoy and learning about their culture. I give particular recognition to two people who have become very close to me and they are Ngunnawal elder Don Bell and Mrs Ruth Bell. I would like at this stage to congratulate their granddaughter Melissa Bell for her wonderful achievements at St Francis Xavier school.
Yesterday was indeed a momentous occasion in the history of this great nation. We, collectively, finally said sorry to our Indigenous people and in doing so asked for forgiveness for a time that we should never forget but, more importantly, a time we must learn from and positively move forward from. As Noel Pearson said, there are many issues to this apology. It was and is most certainly about the injustices meted out to the stolen or separated generation, or what other terminology has been used in the last while.
However, it should also touch the hearts of all Indigenous Australians, not just Aboriginal Indigenous Australians. For me this apology is about all Indigenous