Dec 4, 1997

Adjournment – Bringing Them Home

ADJOURNMENT: Bringing Them Home

4 June 1997

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler)(7.50 p.m.) —I rise tonight to raise the report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. The stolen generations inquiry, as it has become known, has brought to light the continuing devastation of the lives of thousands of indigenous people in this country as a result of policies and practices which shamefully continued until very recently in our history.

For any of my colleagues in this House who have any lingering doubts about the morality or context of these policies, I recommend that you read the report. The report details many excerpts from evidence given to the inquiry by witnesses who suffered under these policies. Let me give you examples, firstly, from a Western Australian woman removed from her family at the age of 10. In her confidential evidence, No. 821, she told the inquiry:

I was at the post office with my Mum and Aunty [and cousin]. 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. We were in the lock-up for two days waiting for the boat to Perth.

Further on, on page 204 of the report, she outlines details of what happened to her after she was taken. She said:

I was taken there because I was `half-caste’. I started thinking, `Why do I deserve to be treated like this?’ But as the years went by, I sort of accepted all that. We were treated differently to white and black people. We weren’t allowed to go down to see our Aboriginal people, or go into the houses where the white people were. We just had to live around the outside of the house. They made us feel like we weren’t allowed to do anything: no freedom of movement, even to think for yourself. They had to tell you what to do, and how to think.

We were locked up in the dormitories, and had to go and ask for anything. We had to go and ask if we could go and see our people. We were more or less like slaves, I think. We didn’t think that was wrong. We just thought it was our duty. We did what we were told.

Years later, when we were grown up, our own boss—by this time we were married and having our children—we were having families and still couldn’t go up and ask the managers if we could get married. They had to tell you who you had to marry. We didn’t know what was their plans for us. We just lived and did what we were told.

I was almost ashamed to be half-caste sometimes. I had no confidence in myself, or how to make up my mind what to do . . . When I was growing up I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. But you couldn’t say that because you had to go to school and go out and work in the house, do domestic duties. That’s what they said. We lost much of our culture, our language and traditional knowledge, our kinship and our land.

Mr Speaker, this report represents the cultural genocide of a whole generation or generations of people. I certainly recommend it to you.

Dealing with these issues does not mean adopting personal guilt about past actions. The view that making a decent response to this issue somehow confers this guilt on white Australians is a furphy being bandied around by extremists like the member for Oxley (Ms Hanson) and, unfortunately, more sensible people like the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) in an attempt to cloud the issue and somehow try to justify their position of not having the leadership and the guts to make the right decision and properly compensate indigenous people.

This cannot be brought down to dollars and cents. This is about the morally right thing to do. The fact that today’s comments by Jose Ramos Horta and Mick Dodson have been criticised for bringing criticism on Australia I think is absolutely ironic. They cannot ignore this report. We as parliamentarians cannot ignore this report. People should not exacerbate the damage which has been done by condemning people for speaking out on these facts.

It is unfortunate that Australia’s reputation will be damaged unless we do the right thing by offering an appropriate apology, a full apology on behalf of our nation, just as Tony Blair has made an apology for the Irish potato famine. If that is good enough, why is it not good enough for us when we are talking about events which occurred as recently as the 1970s? That is step one. Step 2 is to offer proper compensation for indigenous people. (Time expired)