Page 504 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 13 February 2013

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The apology was a new beginning. It is important that the work of healing and reconciliation continues and that programs are in place to address the huge needs in the Indigenous community so everyone can reach their full potential. The apology in 2008 to the stolen generations sits with some of the great milestones in Australia that mark the transformation of the relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. These include the 1967 referendum, the 1992 Mabo decision and the Reconciliation Day bridge walk in 2000.

Today, to mark this anniversary, the House of Representatives has passed an Act of Recognition. It is a first step towards the ultimate and significant goal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ place as the first owners of this land being enshrined in our constitution by referendum. The significance of the 2008 apology in addressing the damage done in the past has been reflected in the calls for apologies from other groups wronged by government.

The Assembly’s apology to the women who suffered the trauma of having a child taken at birth for forced adoption last August was one such example. Indeed, that apology resonated in the Indigenous community where forced adoptions contributed to the stolen generations of Indigenous children. The national apology dealt with intensely personal, tragic circumstances and, however late it was, it brought solace to many.

MR WALL (Brindabella), by leave: I too would like to acknowledge today the fifth anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations. The apology made on 13 February 2008 was a watershed moment in the history of our nation, an important step on the road to healing and reconciliation. The apology made by Mr Rudd acknowledged and recognised the grief, pain, sense of loss and suffering by thousands of our nation’s first people. A whole generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were forcibly removed from their families and communities by government and other authorities and placed into the care of institutions or foster families. This took place for no other reason than race. Worse still, this was done under so-called child protection laws set down by governments of the day.

It is important on this day that we reflect on how far government and social policy have come since this era. It is also important to note here today that the word “sorry” has a special and very significant meaning for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It expresses a deep acknowledgement of loss and suffering, rather than a responsibility; a difference that many have struggled to come to terms with.

I too would like to acknowledge the members of the Third Assembly and then Liberal Chief Minister Kate Carnell who, on 17 June 1997, historically and unanimously passed a motion in this place which sought to apologise to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the ACT. The motion read in part:

(1) apologises to the Ngun(n)awal people and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT for the hurt and distress inflicted upon any people as a result of the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families;

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