Bill's Speeches

SPEECH - ADDRESS TO THE HEALING FOUNDATION: 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ‘BRINGING THEM HOME’ REPORT - CANBERRA - TUESDAY, 23 MAY 2017

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Good morning everybody. 

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. 

I pay my respects to elders past and present. 

I want to start with some of the evidence from the report 20 years ago. 

They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome.

They put the mums in there as well.

But when we’d gone about ten miles they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car.

We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left behind.

But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car.

They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us.

We were screaming in the back of that car.

When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up.

We were only ten years old. 

This is the truth-telling that we commemorate 20 years on. 

I acknowledge the Prime Minister this morning, the other speakers; Aunty Matilda, Steve, Lawrence, Mick. 

I'd like to acknowledge the first Australians who serve in this parliament; Linda Burney, Ken Wyatt, Pat Dodson, Malarndirri McCarthy and Jacqui Lambie. 

But in particular, I want to acknowledge the members of the Stolen Generation who have come here today. 

I acknowledge you and all of those who are no longer with us, who summoned the courage to tell stories such as the one I briefly read out. 

Today we commemorate hundreds of voices who filled the pages of a report which brought the hard truth of history to the home of democracy.  

Bringing them Home spoke for the trauma inflicted on three and four generations: parents who were robbed - and children who were stolen away from community, country and connection.  

It told of the added pain of years of having their history denied, the truth of what had happened questioned - your very identity and existence arrogantly dismissed. 

Nine years ago, the parliament of Australia exorcised the ghost of that discriminatory fiction. 

We said: We believe you. 

We said: Sorry. 

And – to the eternal credit of the first Australians – you grasped the hand of healing. 

You were bigger than bitterness, stronger than suspicion - you found it in your hearts to accept the apology in the spirit in which it was extended. 

The apology was a momentous day in our history – but it wasn’t the end of the journey. 

I know many members of the Stolen Generations still live with the painful consequences of their forcible removal. 

As Steve has said, it’s right and important both Labor and Liberal governments in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania are showing leadership on reparations, recovery and reconnection. 

And it’s long past the time for us to have that conversation in this place too. 

I acknowledge the previous accomplishments of previous parliaments in this place - and members of the Stolen Generation should be heartened that there are so many members of the current parliament here. 

But history is not something that is consigned to the history books - it is what this current generation of parliamentarians must contribute to. 

It’s time we talked of reconnection, recovery and reparations. 

Let us call the Stolen Generations for what they were: a gross violation of human rights. 

And we need to guarantee that it can never happen again. 

This is the question and we should be smart enough as a parliament and as a nation to make that guarantee. 

It is always difficult to decide how much is blue sky and how much is tough. 

Where do you draw the line between commemoration, the celebration and the strength which is all part of the story - but in telling the truth, recognise the journey still to go. 

This morning, as we come here, too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children woke up away from their family, culture and country – in out-of-home care. 

This morning, too many young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men have woken up in incarceration for not much more of a reason other than the colour of their skin. 

This morning, too many of our first Australians have woken up still receiving a  lesser deal than is extended to other Australians merely because of the colour of their skin. 

This current generation of parliament, if we are to truly commemorate what was done 20 years ago, it is now our turn to do more than just commemorate. 

It is our turn to address inequality. 

It is our turn to address poverty. 

It is our turn to address the violence which is still breaking-up families and communities. 

Less paternalism, more empowerment. Less rhetoric, more action. 

So that the next generation, the emerging elders, the leaders who will Close the Gap can ensure that first Australians grow up happy, resilient and surrounded by the people they love. 

The test I set for myself is: until mothers do not live in the fear of their children being taken away from them, then the journey isn't complete. 

The happy morning that mothers no longer wake with the fear and the anxiety of their children being taken for them, then we will have brought justice and reconciliation home. 

Thank you very much.


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