Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Apology Anniversary Speech

Thank you Jeff. (MC Jeff McMullan)

I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting this morning, and to their elders past and present.

Thank you Donna (Ms Donna Ingram) for your warm welcome to country.

And thank you Your Excellency Professor Marie Bashir for hosting this anniversary breakfast.

I would also like to acknowledge:

Sir Nicholas Shehadie (Husband of NSW Governor Marie Bashir)

The Premier, the Honourable Barry O’Farrell

Mr Michael McLeod, (CEO Message Stick Group)

My federal colleague, the Honourable Kevin Rudd

The Honourable Victor Dominello (Minister for Citizenship and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in NSW)

The Honourable Greg Pearce (Minister for Finance and Services and Minister for the Illawarra, NSW)

Mr Jeff Bleich, the US Ambassador to Australia

Members of the Stolen Generations and other distinguished guests here this morning.

I would like to pay a particular tribute to Michael (McLeod) for organising this breakfast each year to mark the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, in particular the Stolen Generations.

The Apology was a landmark moment in our history.

One of those rare moments when we all remember exactly where we were at the precise time the long awaited words were said.

We remember who we hugged.

And who we cried with.

The power of that moment – the words and the sentiments – are enduring.

This is the great achievement of the Apology.

A deep ongoing commitment across the nation to ensure that the profound sorrow expressed on that day leads to an honest understanding and a brighter future.

On behalf of the nation that day, Kevin Rudd apologised for the forcible removal of children.

For the loss of families, communities and culture.

We know that loss cannot be made up.

But we can make sure that it never happens again.

And we can make sure that we never forget.

Five years on from that landmark day, we now have dedicated resources to ensure just that.

The Stolen Generations Testimonies website and the National Library’s Oral History Project both contain personal stories from survivors.

I commend these two sites to all to better understand the pain and suffering inflicted on generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

To better understand the loss of people torn away from their culture and their communities.

To better understand why we had to say sorry.

Why we were sorry then.

And why the healing continues now.

As Debra Hocking, one of the Stolen Generations Survivors, says:

For us to heal as a country these are the stories we need to share.

The healing happens through practical activities as well.

On the first Anniversary of the Apology, the Government set up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.

We committed more than $26 million to support the Foundation in community based healing initiatives to address the traumatic legacies of past mistakes.

I am pleased that representatives of the Foundation are here today and I commend their work.

Five years ago, we also set up a comprehensive process, a national plan, to close the gap.

To work for change that means future generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lead healthier, longer and better lives.

This week, the Prime Minister tabled the latest Closing the Gap report in Parliament.

And we received some very encouraging news.

The first of our targets will be reached this year – meaning more four year olds in remote communities have access to pre-school or kindergarten.

Giving them the chance at a stronger start in life.

So that they can start school ready to learn.

Many of you here would already know my passion for ensuring we are providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with a great education.

That we are supporting children to go to school every day.

And I know that many of you, members of the Stolen Generations, who did not have the opportunity for a great education, share my passion.

We know that sustained change will take time.

We know that the situation in many areas of Indigenous disadvantage remains critical.

But our shared resolve is making a difference.

And as we continue our journey of healing, we work to right another omission.

To recognise the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our nation’s constitution.

As Stolen Generations member and amazing song writer Archie Roach said recently on Q&A:

When the Constitution was drawn up it never included Aboriginals and we’re still not included in the Constitution.

Until that is addressed, we truly can’t go forward as a people, as a nation and as Australians as a whole.

I agree that it is wrong that the nation’s foundation document is silent on this vital part of our culture.

And our Government is committed to meaningful constitutional reform, that recognizes the hopes and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Of course, we know that constitutional change in Australia is no easy matter.

It’s why we are calling on the spirit of 1967 to build the necessary support for constitutional change.

So that we once again see passionate Australians sharing the message of change across the community.

As a step towards a successful referendum, we expect the Australian Parliament to soon pass the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill.

This Bill recognises the unique place of Indigenous Australians.

It contains a sunset clause to provide an impetus for a future parliament to reassess how the campaign for change is travelling and when the time is right to hold a successful referendum.

The Bill of Recognition builds on the enormous good will for positive change unleashed by the Apology.

It builds on the sense of togetherness we experience as a nation on the 13th of February five years ago.

A togetherness we demonstrated as perhaps at no other time in our history.

A new-found mutual respect.

To mark this fifth anniversary more than 150 community organisations around Australia will celebrate as we are this morning.

They will be paying tribute to the Stolen Generations.

For their courage and their resilience.

As the Testimonials website says, many are still finding their way home.

I would like to thank the Healing Foundation for its work in organising these community anniversary functions to recognise their ongoing journey.

The Foundation theme this year is Heal Our Past, Build Our Future.

This is the true mission of the Apology.

To heal our past and build our future.

I commit myself and our Government to this ongoing task.

Thank you.