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Adjournment - National Apology to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants

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Rachel Siewert 27 Nov 2014

Rachel has spoken to the Senate to mark the fifth anniversary of the National Apology to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants.

The Senate passed a motion recognising the 5th anniversary, which can be read here.

Today I rise to mark the anniversary-and I admit I am late-of the apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants. The anniversary was on 16 November. This year was the fifth anniversary, so it was particularly special. 16 November 2009 was a special event in Australian politics. It was the apology to over 500,000 forgotten Australians and former child migrants. The significance and the impact of the national apology was huge. Like the apology to the stolen generations it cannot be underestimated; however, it needs to be acknowledged that it is only part of the journey for healing for former child migrants and forgotten Australians. It is important to recognise that it was a very big step. It was particularly important for people who had suffered so much physical, mental and sexual abuse by institutions when they were in out-of-home care in this country.

It was my privilege to chair the last of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee's inquiries into this issue. There had been two previous inquiries and still governments had failed to act. Fortunately, after the third Senate inquiry—the lost innocents and forgotten Australians revisited inquiry—the government did recognise the importance of an apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants. The first recommendation in the report was to have a national apology—saying sorry and recognising others' pain, as we witnessed in the Senate committee inquiries that had been held.

The accounts people told, and some retold, to the third inquiry were harrowing—the years of neglect and abuse that children in institutional care suffered and former child migrants suffered coming to this country—and make horror reading. I acknowledge that not everybody who was in out-of-home care suffered like that, but so many people did. So many people told accounts of the abuse that they suffered—the lack of love and attention, not being held, being restrained, being sexually abused and being forced to work for their keep. Those experiences have marked many people for life. There have been lifelong consequences for people. The impact has been not just on the persons themselves but on their families. There have been repercussions because when they were in institutional care they did not receive love, attention and guidance. People told about not knowing how to cuddle a child and about not knowing how to look after their own children. Unfortunately, there have been the tragic consequences of family break-ups as a result of this. So this has ripples and ramifications across generations.

Many of the recommendations made in those Senate committee reports I acknowledge have been implemented or are being implemented. As part of the apology some money was allocated to establish Find & Connect and some other services. One issue that has not been taken up adequately is redress. Some states have made some part reparation and have some redress schemes. Some states are better than others. In my home state of Western Australia there has been some redress, particularly for those who suffered abuse in care, but that redress was inadequate and unfortunately the state government cut it back. That to many people added insult to injury in terms of the impact it has had on people's wellbeing and sense of justice and sense of care from our state government. Other states have not implemented redress schemes, and that is a cause of great distress to many people. As forgotten Australians and former child migrants age, they are also finding that they need some additional support.

I was at a celebration in Perth of the apology on 16 November—it was held on the actual day. It was a day of great celebration, and in fact they set aside virtually the whole day so that people could come and share that day with other people who had had the experience of institutional out-of-home care. They brought their families, and it was a day to celebrate the apology, but people also spoke of the need for redress. They also—and this is where I wanted to mention the gold card—talked of maybe providing a gold card so that people could access support services, particularly as they age, because there are some significant issues. They talked about the need for ongoing counselling. They talked about the very positive experience that they have through Relationships Australia and the services that they are providing.

I also want to note Tuart Place, which is another organisation—it has some beautiful rooms down in Fremantle—that also supports forgotten Australians and former child migrants. I try and go down there as often as I can, which, unfortunately—people in this place know our heavy schedule—is not as often as I would like. I am going to go down there for the Christmas party—I try never to miss it. Tuart Place also offers a drop-in centre so people can come in and just talk, seek counselling, or just spend time with other former child migrants or forgotten Australians.

These sorts of experiences and these sorts of supports are absolutely essential for forgotten Australians and former child migrants, which is why I think it is so important that we continue to provide these supports and that the funding is renewed for these services, because people are going to need support—many of them for the rest of their lives, in some form. It may just be to enable someone to go to one of the centres that provides support, to be able to chat to people, to be able to spend some time with people who have shared their experiences or to find out where to access support services. It is why redress is still so important. People, I believe, deserve compensation for the grief, the trauma and the abuse that they suffered. There really does need to be a coordinated approach, and here I will also mention the fact that former providers of supposed care also need to be involved in this. Some of the accounts that we heard during the last inquiry were in fact from forgotten Australians and former child migrants about the response that they had had from some of the providers, most of which were churches. From most of them, the evidence that we heard was very negative in terms of their response. I am very pleased to say that that has changed—that many of the providers have in fact come to the party and are supporting or helping to support people.

However, many, many forgotten Australians and former child migrants do not want to have anything to do with the providers that caused their trauma and neglect and abuse. And I can absolutely and totally understand that. I do not think I would; I really do not think I would. Some do, but many, many do not. But those providers still need to make sure that redress and compensation is provided to the people whose lives they so damaged. Many of the people who suffered under these policies thought that their parents were dead, and in fact they were not. And many of the parents thought their child was dead. They were told their child was dead. That is unforgivable. And people should never, ever forget what happened—because if we forget, it will be repeated. And it should never, ever be repeated.


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