Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Apology to the Forgotten Australians and former child migrants, ABC 891 Adelaide, interviewer Grant Cameron

Program: Drive with Grant Cameron, ABC 891

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

GRANT CAMERON: We’ll start this afternoon with an interview I recorded earlier today with Jenny Macklin, the Federal Community Affairs Minister – because this time next week, the Prime Minister will have delivered his apology, his national apology, to the group of people known as the Forgotten Australians. These are people who came here in all sorts of conditions. About 500,000 of them in fact came to Australia, and lived, in many instances, the most horrific of lives. And we’ll talk with a couple of those people in just a moment.

But first, the interview I recorded earlier today with Jenny Macklin – starting off with her answer to the question, will this apology be enough.

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s a very important step, and something that the Forgotten Australians and the former child migrants have been calling for for some time. It is a way that the nation can really come together with the Prime Minister and acknowledge the terrible way in which around 500,000 Australians were treated in institutions over the last century.

GRANT CAMERON: It’s a lot of people, isn’t it. I hadn’t…I knew there were a lot. But I didn’t realise there were around a half a million who fell into this category of Forgotten Australians. That’s a lot of people who have put up with a lot of abuse.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. It was a shocking number, and the levels of abuse are beyond most people’s imagination. That’s why I think it’s so important that we do make this public, that we tell their stories. There’s also around 7000 former child migrants who came, some of course after the war, many were lied to about what happened to their parents, their parents were lied to as well. Many were put to terrible menial work and not allowed to get a decent education, as well as suffering terrible levels of abuse like the Forgotten Australians. So it is a very important time for us to acknowledge what happened.

We certainly do hope that it will heal, that it will help people who have been treated so badly. But I do think it is important too, for us all to acknowledge what did happen in the past and that we bring it out into the open. A number of people have said that that’s particularly important, not just for them but for their families, for their children and their grandchildren – to help them explain to their families about what happened to them. I hope that it does help their families, as well as the people who are affected themselves.

GRANT CAMERON: There have been some quite prominent Australians, and many of them politicians, who would fall into the category of Forgotten Australians, and all of them have said this is a really important day for people like us.

What’s the flow on from this in terms of what the Federal Governments will do, what the state governments will do, what those organisations that were responsible for a lot of what happened to these forgotten Australians – what will they all be doing?

JENNY MACKLIN: Some of the states have already put in place various schemes to help Forgotten Australians, and some have got different forms of assistance put in place. That’s the same for some of the churches and the other providers. They have compensation schemes that they’ve put in place. And really, that’s a matter for them, not really a matter for me to comment on.

What we want to do, at a federal level, is make sure that where we can, we help people find their families. For many groups of siblings, they were separated, put in to different homes, and for many of them, they haven’t been able to find their parents or find out who their parents were. And that of course is particularly difficult for the former child migrants with parents on the other side of the world. So there are some practical things that we can do. We’re funding an oral history program to make sure that people have the opportunity to tell their stories, and I think that too will both help people heal, but also make sure that we have a proper record of what happened.

GRANT CAMERON: Minister, does this have the potential though to open floodgates for compensation for those who feel they need more than the apology?

JENNY MACKLIN: I don’t think so. That was talked about before the apology to the stolen generations – that didn’t happen. Apologies have been made by the states and by some of the churches and other institutional providers in the past. That hasn’t happened. I think the vast majority of people come to this apology with a wonderful generosity of spirit. And I hope that the vast majority of Australians will see it in that light, and see it as a way of helping people heal.

GRANT CAMERON: And Jenny Macklin, when we think about the relative closeness to our own personal history of these Forgotten Australians, are we guaranteed that we won’t be thinking in 100 years down the track that the Government of the day will be needing to apologise for something we are doing to people in Australia right now?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I think one of the important things about this apology is to make sure we do all the things that are necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But it’s also important that we have strong regulations for out-of-home care. When children do need to be removed from their parents because of terrible levels of abuse in their homes, we have to make sure that the out-of-home care is of a high standard. And so I want to see national standards for out-of-home care to make sure that we do protect children, and we’re now working on that with our state and territory colleagues.

GRANT CAMERON: That’s Federal Community Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. I spoke with her before we came on air today about next week’s national apology to the Forgotten Australians. As she said, several thousand child migrants, and hundreds of thousands of other Australians who were taken away from their families, and many of them lived in quite terrible conditions and were subjected to the most horrendous abuse.