Revisting Kevin Rudd’s “Sorry” speech 15 years on.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made history in 2008.

On May 26th 1997, a report called ‘Bringing them Home’ was tabled in Federal Parliament.

The report detailed the policies and practices used by past governments to forcibly remove Indigenous children from their families.

It recommended that the then Prime Minister John Howard, issue a public apology to the Stolen Generation. He refused to do it.

The ‘Bringing Them Home’ report acknowledged that the first step in healing is addressing the truth head-on.

In fact, a tidal wave of apologies to the Stolen Generations followed the report-by judges, churches, trade unions, state parliaments, and civic associations, but the ultimate responsibility fell on the Australian Government to acknowledge this wrongful policy.

Just over a decade later at 9am on February 13th 2008 – only one year into his role as Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd issued a national apology to the indigenous people of Australia. An apology that no other Prime Minister before him was prepared to make.

No matter which side of politics you’re on, or what your opinion of Kevin Rudd is, you cannot deny the fact that when he made a commitment a year prior, to issue an apology in Parliament to the stolen generations – at the commencement of the 42nd Parliament of the Commonwealth, he honoured that commitment.

Kevin Rudd’s sorry speech was unequivocal in its condemnation of the violence, (both physical and psychological), perpetuated towards the indigenous communities. It was raw and incredibly cathartic for the majority of Australians. Even so, MPs Sophie Mirabella, Don Randall, Dennis Jensen, Alby Schulz, Wilson Tuckey and Peter Dutton all boycotted the sorry speech in parliament that day.

Sorry speech transcript in full, and watch the video;

The sorry day speech was a turning point in Australia’s history, a small step forward in addressing and acknowledging the trauma caused to the Aboriginal community for the stolen generation. However, considering the mammoth problems caused by two hundred and thirty odd years of dispossession, colonisation and subjugation, it’s no easy task to bridge the gap of disparity.

“The issue is a ‘blank spot’ in the history of Australia. The damage and trauma these policies caused are felt everyday by Aboriginal people. They internalise their grief, guilt and confusion, inflicting further pain on themselves and others around them. It is about time the Australian Government openly accepted responsibility for their actions and compensate those affected.”

(Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter in Buti A, Bringing Them Home the ALSA Way).

On the first anniversary of the apology, a Healing Foundation to address trauma and aid recovery in Indigenous communities was announced by the Australian Government. The foundation was allocated $26.6 million over four years in the 2009-10 budget. Since that time, the Healing Foundation has given support and provided funding to various community driven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initiatives.

Despite this, there is still much to be done. Jim Morrison (Co-chair of the National Stolen Generations Alliance and himself a victim of the Stolen Generation) states that;

“The level of dysfunction that remains in the community as a result of the removal policy is way beyond an apology”.

State and national initiatives have been created to back up the apology with a parliamentary inquiry to help resolve any outstanding issues. Issues include compensation payments and a national education campaign to attempt to bridge the gap between an apology and an action of value and substance.

This year, on National Sorry Day we again recognised the loss, the grief and the suffering of the Stolen Generations and reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. The Healing Foundation has been commissioned to conduct a ‘contemporary needs and demographic analysis’ to understand how to best keep supporting members of the Stolen Generation across Australia.

On top of the work we are doing today, it is critical future generations are educated and learn from mistakes made in the past. Resources such as Australia – A national overview based on the ‘Bringing them Home’ report produced by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is attempting to do just that.

Indigenous welfare remains one of Australia’s most difficult and complex challenges. Although there have been efforts made that have improved the lives of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we still have much to achieve. You only need to review one of the many stolen generation primary sources to see the statistics for yourself.

In February 2019, the Federal Government shut down its Closing the Gap policy after a committee review of its 10-year operation. The committee reported, “A revolving door of prime ministers, Indigenous affairs ministers, and senior bureaucrats have all but halted the steady progress hoped for by First Peoples”. Rudd’s apology and various attempted redress schemes have not solved the problem, but it’s at least a first step.

We’ve got a long way to go and as Australians, politicians, bureaucrats, and people – we can do better.

Read Kevin Rudd’s apology transcript below:

The Speaker of the House (Hon Harry Jenkins MP): The Clerk.

The Clerk: Government business notice number 1, Motion offering an apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

The Speaker: Prime Minister.

Prime Minister (Hon Kevin Rudd MP): Mr Speaker, I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

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.

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.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

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

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

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.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

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