Bill's Speeches

STATEMENT ON INDULGENCE: 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NATIONAL APOLOGY TO AUSTRALIA’S INDIGENOUS PEOPLE - CANBERRA - TUESDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2018

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Thank you, Mr Speaker and I thank the Prime Minister for his words. 

This morning in the Great Hall, we paid tribute to the survivors of the Stolen Generations.

This morning in the Great Hall, we paid tribute to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for his courage and his leadership - and he's most welcome here, with Therese. 

And this morning in the Great Hall I shared Paul's story. 

In 1964, when Paul was 5 1/2 months old, he and his mother both fell ill. 

His mum took him to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. 

Paul recovered more quickly than his mother and the authorities recommended to her that she place him at St Gabrielle's Baby's Home in Balwyn, until she was recovered. 

Soon after, Paul was made a ward of the state and transferred to another institution. 

When his Mum came to visit him, she only found an empty cot. 

At the age of 3, Paul was placed with a family for adoption. 

After just 7 months, his adoptive mother complained to officials that this boy, barely three years old, was: ‘dull, unresponsive and an embarrassment at coffee parties’. 

So Paul was sent to the Gables Orphanage in Kew.

He remembers being paraded in line-ups when prospective foster parents would come and view the children. 

The staff at the orphanage would tell foster parents not to worry about Paul’s dark complexion explaining: ‘He could easily be mistaken for Southern European’.

When he turned 6, Paul was taken-in by another foster family. He lived with them until he was 18. 

Shunned by the older siblings as ‘not their real brother’, bullied at school for his skin colour. 

Then – one day, soon after his 18th birthday – Paul was called to the Sunshine Welfare Offices, to be discharged from his wardship. 

In the space of one twenty-minute conversation, he was told the following: 

  • That he was of Aboriginal descent
  • That he had a mother, father, three brothers and a sister 

And he was given a file full of letters, photos - and 18 birthday cards from his Mum. 

Paul found his mother, working in a hostel for Aboriginal children, she was looking after 20 kids. 

They had six years together, before she died - aged 45.  

That’s two pages from The Bringing them Home Report. 

At Redfern, Prime Minister Keating said that the greatest failing of non-Aboriginal Australians was that we did not stop to ask: “How would I feel if this were done to me?” 

Honestly, I don’t know if I can answer that question. I don't know if any of the members of parliament here could.

I do not know if we could imagine ourselves as boys or girls growing up adrift, isolated, bullied, ridiculed - not knowing if anyone loved me, not knowing cared, not knowing where I came from. 

And indeed as a parent, I cannot imagine the horror of visiting my baby only to find an empty cot. 

I do not know if we would have had the strength as Paul's mother did, to live with years of unanswered letters, of desperate pleas for information to break down the faceless rock of bureaucracy. 

I do not know if all that had happened to me, if I'd been a parent or a child subject to these injustices, this shocking cruelty - I do not know if I could have found in myself to accept the Apology.

But the survivors did.

They showed us a generosity and a kindness and a humanity we never showed them. 

What I do know, what we know today, is that saying Sorry was the right thing to do - and the least we could do. 

And 10 years after saying sorry, we need to show we mean it. 

  • With belated compensation for survivors
  • With support for the healing of their descendants
  • With national action to tackle the crisis of Aboriginal kids growing up in out-of-home care

We need to show that we mean it by removing the shadow and anxiety from Aboriginal parents and grandparents now, that their kids could still be just taken away from them. 

We need to show it by adopting in our hearts, the Uluru Statement from the Heart. 

We need to show that we mean it by not turning a blind eye, to those who criticise the ‘black armband’ view of history, or the paternalism or the indifference or those who use words like 'Aboriginal industry'.

We need to show it by closing the gap, so the next generation of Aboriginal children do not get the deal that their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have had. 

This is the challenge for the whole parliament, not just this day, every day of the year.


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