STATEMENTS (Federation Chamber): National Apology to the Stolen Generations - 14th Anniversary

15 February 2022

I rise as well to address the chamber to acknowledge the 14th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. I'd like to knowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, whose land we meet on for every parliamentary sitting and on which we are meeting today. I'm proud to acknowledge the traditional owners of my own electorate, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations. I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I'm also incredibly proud to pay homage to William Cooper, after whom my electorate is named. He was a First Nations man born in 1860 who fought for the rights and advancements of Aboriginal people—and the fight continues.

The national apology was a watershed moment in Australian history. It recognised the deep and brutal trauma of those from the stolen generation who'd been taken from their families. As the member for Barton so movingly put it yesterday, put yourself in the shoes of a three-year-old who is wrapped in the love of a large family and then has that love ripped away. It recognised the immense pain and it met that raw wound with a sincere apology. Our nation failed people. Australia enacted a cruel brutality upon too many of our First Nations peoples. Finally our national leader said sorry. I'd like to quote from the speech made 14 years ago by our Prime Minister:

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

It was an extremely meaningful moment for so many of us, for so many Australians. The apology tore through an insidious and long-term silence about these acts of horror and violence. The whole nation paused and reflected. We thought of those who hadn't been given a platform to tell their story. We thought of the intergenerational trauma that ripped across families, across communities and across cultures. We thought of the loss of language, the loss of culture, the loss of identity and the loss of family that people endured and still, painfully, endure today. For Australians who do not have First Nations heritage, we confronted the dark side of our nation's history and grappled with the truth that each of us, or our families, may have contributed to this mistreatment, or indeed held silence surrounding these issues.

I remember where I was 14 years ago when the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered the apology. I was on the lawns of parliament with my nursing colleagues from the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives. I can't tell you what an honour it was to stand there and share that day, that moment, with those wonderful women. And I do remember, not so proudly, that we all turned our backs on the then Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, who referred to alcoholism, corruption and abuse. That was offensive. That was wrong. It did not hold the tenor of that auspicious moment.

The Prime Minister's speech aimed to move Australia forward. It was a turning point in history. Words are powerful, and actions are even more powerful. That's why Labor is so committed to delivering the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full. This commitment is underscored by three important words and all the values and empowerment that sit within them: voice, treaty, truth. My electorate of Cooper is home to many First Nations Australians. We have many amazing First Nations organisations that are domiciled in Cooper. Within them, there are so many individuals who embody strength, resilience and leadership. There is also anger—anger at persistent racism, anger at the gap that still has not been closed and anger at the many ways that colonialism continues to play out in the lives and experiences of First Nations Australians.

Apologies are important, listening is important and actions are even more important. But demanding forgiveness after an apology is unforgivable. An apology must be given not with an expectation of forgiveness but with sincere remorse and the promise of addressing the injustice. You don't say sorry because you expect to be forgiven. You say sorry to truly apologise. An apology is not a transaction. You can't set the terms of an apology. It should never demand the forgiveness of those who are wronged.

I've had many people reach out in the past day furious that one Prime Minister could say something so offensive in the context of another Prime Minister's authentic apology. The PM has shown a growing or maybe even an ingrained pattern of telling victims and survivors how they should behave, what they should say, whether or not they should smile and, now, when they should forgive. He says that 'I forgive you' are the three hardest words to say, but I believe the hardest three words for those opposite to say are 'voice, treaty, truth'. This is the greatest piece of unfinished business for this parliament and for Australia.