Page 503 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 13 February 2013

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It certainly is an area that I, as the previous shadow for Indigenous affairs, maintain very positive relations on with the government, particularly with Jon Stanhope when we were dealing with Indigenous matters. It is certainly an important issue that I would like the opposition, wherever possible, to maintain a bipartisan approach on.

There are some issues where we will play politics, but this is one where we certainly will not. I think it behoves all of us in here to put maximum effort towards not only reconciliation but also doing everything we can to close that gap in disadvantage.

DR BOURKE (Ginninderra), by leave: In 2008 the new federal Labor government under Kevin Rudd delivered the long-awaited apology to the stolen generations for the forced removal of Indigenous children. Today marks the fifth anniversary. Supporting an apology has been part of the Labor Party’s platform for many years and was one of the first items of business for a new Labor federal government. Saying “sorry” to the stolen generations carried enormous weight, even more so because it had been denied for so long.

The ACT Legislative Assembly reached out to the stolen generations with an apology in 1997 and this preceded the commonwealth apology by 11 years. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology in 2008 brought the nation together in recognising the hurt and damage done by past practices that created the stolen generations. It was a profound, cathartic moment for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and for the nation—a national apology which was long overdue. A barrier in Australia to facing up to our history had been built. We needed to tell the truth and create a better Australian story.

The apology was about recognising our past, the pain and grief inflicted on the Indigenous families who suffered under past policies and continue to be damaged by that legacy. You could see on the day of the apology its importance for the whole community. It meant the release of so much pent-up hurt. It was the rain after a long drought.

The apology recognised the pain that had continued from shattered families. Children and parents had grown old without knowing what had happened to each other, not knowing if they would ever meet up again. It was a pain that extended through the following generations growing up without their family and cultural support. The language and culture of children taken away was systematically attacked, as it was on the missions and reserves where many Aboriginal people were forced to go to or sought refuge from those taking their land.

The apology was an important step that allowed us to talk more freely about what happened and where we go to from now. It cleared the way for many of the healing programs assisting individuals and communities to understand the past and to address the issues holding them back today. Building on that apology, the federal government established the independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation to support community programs and fund research on healing.

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