Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Second Anniversary of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples

Location: Sydney

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First I want to acknowledge the First Australians, past and present, on whose land we are meeting.

Thank you Allen for your welcome to country.

I also want to thank Michael (McLeod) whose vision it was to bring together Indigenous leaders and business leaders for this event.

It is, of course, what we have come to expect from Michael who is an inspirational role model for all Australians.

Last year, Michael was determined not to let the anniversary pass without celebration and now he’s embedded it as an annual event to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together.

Also this morning, I want to speak of the sad passing of a member of the Stolen Generations Uncle Victor Morgan and acknowledge the presence here today of his son Victor, and his nephews Richard, Michael and Shane.

Uncle Victor was taken from his family when he was five years old and was sent first to Bomaderry on the south coast and then to the infamous Kinchella Boys Home. Until his death he was the oldest surviving Kinchella boy.

Like many Aboriginal boys, Uncle Victor’s life at Kinchella was harsh and cruel.

But despite being robbed of his own childhood, at the age of 18 he found his family and then dedicated his life to giving his own children and dozens of foster children, the loving, safe home he never had.

His son Victor remembers a father who worked for 40 years for the South Sydney Council.

Who never complained about the past, who cherished his independence, who raised his children in a two bedroom house, who educated them.

And taught them to have pride in who they are.

Today as we celebrate the second anniversary of the Apology, I ask all of you to pause for a moment to remember and celebrate the life of Uncle Victor.

Two years ago tomorrow, on behalf of the nation, the Prime Minister said sorry to Indigenous Australians, in particular the Stolen Generations, for the great wrongs and injustices of the past.

Like so many of you, it is a day I will never forget.

I will never forget the raw and mixed emotions on the faces of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike – the people in Parliament House, those in the galleries and the thousands on the lawns outside.

Of course there were tears, grief and sorrow but also the healing emotions – relief that at last this was happening, laughter, joy and a great and deserved pride in our First Australians.

After decades of dismissing or ignoring the past we acknowledged that it could not be denied or set aside.

We completed this unfinished business and set the course for change.

Today, at this second anniversary Apology breakfast, we have the opportunity to pause, reflect and renew our shared resolve to work together as true friends and equals.

So that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander baby born today has the same opportunities, the same safe and healthy start in life, the same right to the best education, the same expectation to aim as high as any other Australian child.

This is what all of us here are working so hard for, in many and different ways.

At the grass roots level Link Up is reuniting hundreds of families who thought they were lost to one another forever.

For many people, finding their families has given them the identity they never had – it’s the key to finally knowing who they are and where they belong.

Last year, here in New South Wales there were 156 reunions – thanks to the forensic investigations of what Link Up CEO Glendra Stubbs describes as the Sherlock Holmes team.

At the corporate level, Australian business is putting its shoulder to the wheel, developing Reconciliation Action Plans committing to hiring Indigenous workers, using Indigenous contractors, offering school-based traineeships and higher education scholarships.

And across the country, a new wave of Indigenous leadership is emerging, keen to take responsibility for the future of their communities and foster the personal responsibility that is at the heart of family life and the foundation of strong communities.

To support these leaders I can announce today that the Australian Government is investing $585,000 in the leadership skills of the Stolen Generations to support them as positive role models in the community.

As part of this package the Government will deliver 10 scholarships totalling $81,000, for members of the Stolen Generations to undertake a Certificate II in Indigenous Leadership at the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre.

This funding will also help promote the development of current and emerging Indigenous leaders by providing workshops, the launch of the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project webpage, which will see up to 60 oral histories made available online.

We have also established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation to give Indigenous people support and ownership; to help them overcome the cycle of trauma and grief arising from forced removals and other past government policies.

Its focus is on grassroots healing initiatives and preventative health, education and skills training.

At the same time, building an evidence base through the evaluation and documentation of best practice in healing.

As the Prime Minister said on Thursday, when he delivered his second annual close the gap report, if we are to break from the past we must all play our part.

All of us must change old entrenched attitudes – the way we think about one another and the way we relate to one another.

Talking to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, I sense that this change is happening.

As Michael says, six years ago when he started his business, prospective clients said they would give him ago because he was Aboriginal.

Now this isn’t an issue – company CEOs are more interested in the product and services he provides.

There’s change too in North Queensland where Aunty Cindy Williams runs the Murri Idol competition. Her community near Yepoon goes out of its way to reach out to non-Indigenous Australians, believing that ‘when people get talking together and get a better understanding of a culture they accept it.’

Ivan Clark, a member of the Stolen Generations who will be talking to you later, says the Apology helped Australians ‘open their eyes’ and now they have ‘a greater understanding of Indigenous people and who we are.’

And you only have to look at Reconciliation Australia’s relationship barometer to see that more Australians want to have a relationship with Indigenous Australians but aren’t sure about how to go about it.

It’s up to all of us to lead the way to build on this goodwill.

To use the precious legacy of the Apology to discard old perceptions and embrace a new future.