Saying Sorry And Acting On Words

“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country…

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians…

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd 13 February 2008

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the national apology to the Stolen Generations, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner has called on the Federal Government to implement a national reparations scheme to fulfil the promise of that historic moment.

June Oscar AO addressed the Reconciliation SA Apology Breakfast at the Convention Centre in Adelaide on Monday, telling the 1200 people present that there is more work to be done to support the healing of Stolen Generations survivors and their communities.

We don’t make amends simply by saying sorry; we must act on words. Achieving justice when grave injustice has been done is complex, challenging and hard work that can’t be left partly completed” she said.

A decade after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood in Federal Parliament, Ms Oscar reflected on the significance of the national apology.

“It is both a sombre and enlivening reflection. A moment in our Australian history where we as a nation experienced an outpouring of support for our first nation which drove a collective determination for a renewed spirit of national healing and recognition” she said.

The apology was the first recommendation of the Bringing Them Home Report, a national enquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The report found that from 1910 to 1970 between one in ten and one in three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families.

The sheer scale of these numbers is hard to comprehend, Ms Oscar told those present at the Apology anniversary event.

“What they made clear was that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families had been affected by this period of Australia’s history. Where a child was directly taken from the arms of a family, or not.

“Entire communities connected through blood, skin, kinship, intimate relationships with place, country language and spirituality felt every single removal” she said.

Ms Oscar told Aboriginal Way after her address that the impact of that removal was profound and complex, and remains with communities today.

“I’ve listened to families through their challenges in dealing with layers and layers of issues in their everyday life. This is the reality of the impact of what happened in the history of this country. When people say get over it and move on, well it is not that simple. Trauma that has impacted the very core of people’s being is something that individuals and families are continuing to confront and grapple with” she said.

Ms Oscar acknowledged the work that had been done since the Bringing Them Home report, including the national apology, but said that there remains work to be done

“The sad thing though is that twenty years on, many of the recommendations in the Bringing Them Home Report have been left unimplemented and not responded to.

“There was a Royal Commission, there was a report tabled in Parliament in the Bringing Them Home Report and an apology followed, a process of reconciliation was funded over a ten-year period.

“But we don’t stop there, we need to continue to find ways of working together to build on those strong achievements of our past” she said.

“As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner I feel a responsibility …to consider where we are at as a nation in delivering the reparations that were recommended in Bringing them Home” Ms Oscar told the Reconciliation SA event on Monday.

“These suggested reparations are complete in nature. They recommend monetary compensation but they move beyond that” she explained.

Ms Oscar believes that it is crucial that stolen generations survivors are consulted in the development of any such scheme.

“It may not be monetary compensation, it might also mean access to services to support people’s wellbeing – their spiritual emotional and mental wellbeing that so many other Australians take for granted.

“So many of these services are non-existent in communities where members of the stolen generations and their families live. And they continue to carry the scars and are responding to their own issues of need but also compounded are the issues that they are confronting today in their families and communities

“While many people who come from the stolen generation families have such great resilience and strength, there are times when people need to have access to support, to respite, to care, so that they can continue to live their lives fully.

Ms Oscar also emphasised the importance of the Federal Government listening to Indigenous Voices on national representation and recognition.

“We’ve heard through the recent constitutional reform process about the idea of a Makarrata Commission – a Commission that would enable truth telling and agreement making, that would be representative of the voices of Indigenous people” she said.

“It requires the will of political leaders to truly listen to what Indigenous Australia is saying.

“The issue is not going to go away. The strong voices of Indigenous peoples have been very clear in recent years around representation on the issues that matter for Indigenous peoples.”

By Lucy Kingston

SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.