for Forced Adoptions, Thursday 21 March 2013
In just over an hour's time, the
following words of apology will be moved in the Senate
and the House of Representatives:
Today, this Parliament, on behalf
of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises
for the policies and practices that forced the separation
of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong
legacy of pain and suffering.
2. We acknowledge the profound
effects of these policies and practices on fathers.
3. And we recognise the hurt these
actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents,
partners and extended family members.
4. We deplore the shameful practices
that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights
and responsibilities to love and care for your children.
You were not legally or socially acknowledged as their
mothers. And you were yourselves deprived of care and
5. To you, the mothers who were
betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected
you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we
6. We say sorry to you, the mothers
who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant
you could not provide informed consent. You were given
false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion
and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest
and in many cases illegal.
7. We know you have suffered enduring
effects from these practices forced upon you by others.
For the loss, the grief, the disempowerment, the stigmatisation
and the guilt, we say sorry.
8. To each of you who were adopted
or removed, who were led to believe your mother had rejected
you and who were denied the opportunity to grow up with
your family and community of origin and to connect with
your culture, we say sorry.
9. We apologise to the sons and
daughters who grew up not knowing how much you were wanted
10. We acknowledge that many of
you still experience a constant struggle with identity,
uncertainty and loss, and feel a persistent tension between
loyalty to one family and yearning for another.
11. To you, the fathers, who were
excluded from the lives of your children and deprived
of the dignity of recognition on your children's birth
records, we say sorry. We acknowledge your loss and grief.
12. We recognise that the consequences
of forced adoption practices continue to resonate through
many, many lives. To you, the siblings, grandparents,
partners and other family members who have shared in the
pain and suffering of your loved ones or who were unable
to share their lives, we say sorry.
13. Many are still grieving. Some
families will be lost to one another forever. To those
of you who face the difficulties of reconnecting with
family and establishing on-going relationships, we say
14. We offer this apology in the
hope that it will assist your healing and in order to
shine a light on a dark period of our nation's history.
15. To those who have fought for
the truth to be heard, we hear you now. We acknowledge
that many of you have suffered in silence for far too
16. We are saddened that many others
are no longer here to share this moment. In particular,
we remember those affected by these practices who took
their own lives. Our profound sympathies go to their families.
17. To redress the shameful mistakes
of the past, we are committed to ensuring that all those
affected get the help they need, including access to specialist
counselling services and support, the ability to find
the truth in freely available records and assistance in
reconnecting with lost family.
18. We resolve, as a nation, to
do all in our power to make sure these practices are never
repeated. In facing future challenges, we will remember
the lessons of family separation. Our focus will be on
protecting the fundamental rights of children and on the
importance of the child's right to know and be cared for
by his or her parents.
19. With profound sadness and remorse,
we offer you all our unreserved apology.
This Apology is extended in good
faith and deep humility.
It will be a profound act of moral
insight by a nation searching its conscience.
It will stand in the name of all
Australians as a sign of our willingness to right an old
wrong and face a hard truth.
As Australians, we are used to
celebrating past glories and triumphs, and so we should.
We are a great nation.
But we must also be a good nation.
Therefore we must face the negative
features of our past without hesitation or reserve.
That is why the period since 2008
has been so distinctive - because it has been a moment
of healing and accountability in the life of our nation.
For a country, just as for a person,
it takes a lot of courage to say we are sorry.
We don't like to admit we were
mistaken or misguided.
Yet this is part of the process
of a nation growing up:
Holding the mirror to ourselves
and our past, and not flinching from what we see.
What we see in that mirror is deeply
shameful and distressing.
A story of suffering and unbearable
But ultimately a story of strength,
as those affected by forced adoptions found their voice.
Organised and shared their experiences.
And, by speaking truth to power,
brought about the Apology we offer today.
This story had its beginnings in
a wrongful belief that women could be separated from their
babies and it would all be for the best.
Instead these churches and charities,
families, medical staff and bureaucrats struck at the
most primal and sacred bond there is:
the bond between a mother and her
Those affected by forced adoption
came from all walks of life.
From the city or the country.
People who were born here or migrated
here and people who are Indigenous Australians.
From different faiths and social
For the most part, the women who
lost their babies were young and vulnerable.
They were often pressurised and
sometimes even drugged.
They faced so many voices telling
them to surrender, even though their own lonely voice
shouted from the depths of their being to hold on to the
new life they had created.
Too often they did not see their
They couldn't sooth his first cries.
Never felt her warmth or smelt
They could not give their own baby
Those babies grew up with other
names and in other homes.
Creating a sense of abandonment
and loss that sometimes could never be made whole.
Today we will hear the motion moved
in the Parliament and many other words spoken by those
of us who lead.
But today we also listen to the
words and stories of those who have waited so long to
Like the members of the Reference
Group personally affected by forced adoption who I met
Lizzy Brew, Katherine Rendell and
Christine Cole told me how their children were wrenched
away so soon after birth.
How they were denied basic support
How the removal of their children
led to a lifetime of anguish and pain.
Their experiences echo the stories
told in the Senate report.
Stories that speak to us with startling
power and moral force.
Like Linda Bryant who testified
of the devastating moment her baby was taken away:
When I had my child she was removed.
All I saw was the top of her head - I knew she had black
So often that brief glimpse was
the final time those mothers would ever see their child.
In institutions around Australia,
women were made to perform menial labour in kitchens and
laundries until their baby arrived.
As Margaret Bishop said:
It felt like a kind of penance.
In recent years, I have occasionally
passed what then was the Medindi Maternity Hospital and
it generates a deep sadness in me and an odd feeling that
it was a Dickensian tale about somebody else.
Margaret McGrath described being
confined within the Holy Cross home where life was 'harsh,
punitive and impersonal'.
Yet this was sunny postwar Australia
when we were going to the beach and driving our new Holdens
and listening to Johnny O'Keefe.
As the time for birth came, their
babies would be snatched away before they had even held
them in their arms.
Sometimes consent was achieved
by forgery or fraud.
Sometimes women signed adoption
papers while under the influence of medication.
Most common of all was the bullying
arrogance of a society that presumed to know what was
Margaret Nonas was told she was
Linda Ngata was told she was too
young and would be a bad mother.
Some mothers returned home to be
ostracised and judged.
And despite all the coercion, many
mothers were haunted by guilt for having 'given away'
Guilt because, in the words of
Louise Greenup, they did not 'buck the system or fight'.
The hurt did not simply last for
a few days or weeks.
This was a wound that would not
Kim Lawrence told the Senate Committee:
The pain never goes away, that
we all gave away our babies. We were told to forget what
had happened, but we cannot. It will be with us all our
Carolyn Brown never forgot her
I was always looking and wondering
if he was alive or dead.
From then on every time I saw a
baby, a little boy and even a grown up in the street,
I would look to see if I could recognise him.
For decades, young mothers grew
old haunted by loss.
Silently grieving in our suburbs
And somewhere, perhaps even close
by, their children grew up denied the bond that was their
Instead they lived with self-doubt
and an uncertain identity.
The feeling, as one child of forced
adoption put it, 'that part of me is missing'.
Some suffered sexual abuse at the
hands of their adoptive parents or in state institutions.
Many more endured the cruelty that
only children can inflict on their peers:
Your mum's not your real mum, your
real mum didn't want you.
Your parents aren't your real parents,
they don't love you.
Taunts vividly remembered decades
For so many children of forced
adoption, the scars remain in adult life.
Phil Evans described his life as
a: rollercoaster ride of emotional trauma; indescribable
fear; uncertainty; anxiety and self-sabotage in so many
Many others identified the paralysing
effect of self-doubt and a fear of abandonment:
It has held me back, stopped me
growing and ensured that I have lived a life frozen.
I heard similar stories of disconnection
and loss from Leigh Hubbard and Paul Howes today.
The challenges of reconnecting
The struggles with self-identity
The difficulties with accessing
Challenges that even the highest
levels of professional success have not been able to assuage
Neither should we forget the fathers,
brothers and sisters, grandparents and other relatives
who were also affected as the impact of forced adoption
cascaded through each family.
Gary Coles, a father, told me today
of the lack of acknowledgment that many fathers have experienced.
How often fathers were ignored
at the time of the birth.
How their names were not included
on birth certificates.
How the veil of shame and forgetting
was cast over their lives too.
My fellow Australians,
No collection of words alone can
undo all this damage.
Or make whole the lives and families
fractured by forced adoption.
Or give back childhoods that were
robbed of joy and laughter.
Or make amends for the Birthdays
and Christmases and Mother's or Father's Days that only
brought a fresh wave of grief and loss.
But by saying sorry we can correct
the historical record.
We can declare that these mothers
did nothing wrong.
That you loved your children and
you always will.
And to the children of forced adoption,
we can say that you deserved so much better.
You deserved the chance to know,
and love, your mother and father.
We can promise you all that no
generation of Australians will suffer the same pain and
trauma that you did.
The cruel, immoral practice of
forced adoption will have no place in this land any more.
We also pledge resources to match
today's words with actions.
We will provide $5 million to improve
access to specialist support and records tracing for those
affected by forced adoptions.
And we will work with the states
and territories to improve these services.
The Government will also deliver
$5 million so that mental health professionals can better
assist in caring for those affected by forced adoption.
We will also provide $1.5 million
for the National Archives to record the experiences of
those affected by forced adoption through a special exhibition.
That way, this chapter in our nation's
history will never again be marginalised or forgotten
Today's historic moment has only
been made possible by the bravery of those who came forward
to make submissions to the Senate Committee and also of
those who couldn't come forward but who nurtured hope
silently in their hearts.
Because of your courage, Australia
now knows the truth.
The report prepared so brilliantly
by Senator Siewert and the Senate Committee records that
truth for all to see.
This was further reinforced by
the national consultations that Professor Nahum Mushin
and his reference group undertook to draft the national
Their guidance and advice to government
on the drafting of the apology have been invaluable.
Any Australian who reads the Senate
report or listens to your stories as I have today will
be appalled by what was done to you.
They will be shocked by your suffering.
They will be saddened by your loss.
But most of all, they will marvel
at your determination to fight for the respect of history.
They will draw strength from your
And they will be inspired by the
generous spirit in which you receive this Apology.
Because saying 'Sorry' is only
ever complete when those who are wronged accept it.
Through your courage and grace,
the time of neglect is over, and the work of healing can