Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Apology to the Forgotten Australians and former child migrants

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JENNY MACKLIN: I am very pleased to be able to announce that the apology will be made by the Prime Minister. He’ll be joined by the Leader of the Opposition, and delivering this apology on the 16th of November. The apology will be delivered here in the Members’ Hall and it will then be tabled in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, which will give an opportunity for all Members of Parliament to contribute to the debate. We do understand that this will be a very, very significant occasion, particularly for those people who are members of what’s become known as the Forgotten Australians and former child migrants. Those people who, when they were children, were in institutions and in many cases very, very badly treated. It’s an opportunity for us all, as Australians, to recognise that what was done was wrong. That it caused an enormous amount of pain, and this is an occasion for all of us to come together as a nation and apologise. Apologise for the pain and suffering that has been felt by so many people, for many of them, over all of their lives. It will be a very significant occasion for the 500,000 people who have been so affected but it’s also a way in which Australians can come together to acknowledge what happened and to give our apologies. I might just ask Tony Abbott if he’d like to say a few words.

TONY ABBOTT: Thanks Jenny. Look I will say a few brief words before asking Steve Irons to say something because Steve is the only current Member of Parliament who was a member of the Forgotten Australians. I am happy to be here with Jenny Macklin. I’m pleased that the Parliament will be coming together to offer this apology. There are 500,000 Australians who went through various forms of care. For all the good intentions of most of the people involved in providing it, for all the good work that was often done, there were very, very serious deficiencies. Many people suffered neglect. Many more people suffered the kind of lack of nurturing which every human being needs. We have been guilty of much hardness of heart and I think it’s appropriate that we should come together as a Parliament and on behalf of the Nation, to apologise. So I’m pleased that the Government and the Opposition will be as one on this issue and I’d now ask Steve Irons to say a few words.

STEVE IRONS: Thanks Tony and thanks Jenny. On behalf of the Liberal and National Party Coalition we’re grateful for the bipartisan approach to this apology. It’s fantastic that it’s going to be held in Parliament House on the 16th of November and I’d like to pay a particular tribute to the three associations, the Forgotten Australians, the UK migrants, and to CLAN, who have worked with the committee and particularly to Andrew Murray as well, whose chairmanship of that committee and the contribution from the Minister and also from all the parties who have been involved in this Committee. It’s going to be a tribute and a great acknowledgement to people of Australia who have been through the experience of institutionalisation that these people have suffered, and not only for them to be recognised but for their families as well, who have had to put up with the suffering and the consequences of the abuse that people who went through institutions and foster care or state ward situations, and I can only congratulate the Government and all parties who associated themselves with this and look forward to the 16th of November. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Minister, should the apology have been made in Parliament? Why the decision not to do that?

JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve had an advisory group which Andrew Murray has chaired. We’ve had Members of Parliament across the political spectrum on this group, representatives from CLAN, the former child migrants. We’ve asked their advice about where they think it’s most appropriate to have this apology. They’ve consulted widely with their members, many, many times and they have decided that this is a very beautiful place, a place that sits between the House and the Senate. The motion will then go into the House and the Senate to enable us all to contribute. But this is a way in which this can be a very special event and we’re really following their advice.

JOURNALIST: How important is this to you and to the people you represent?

LEONIE SHEEDY: To the 500,000 Australians who grew up in the 500 plus orphanages and children’s homes it is very, very important to us to have our country and our Prime Minister acknowledge that what happened to us in those places was wrong. That we believe you, we hear your pain, we acknowledge your suffering. It’s vital for this country to heal and for us to heal as individuals. And for our children and our husbands and wives, to believe us, and for our children to understand why we’re the way we are.

HAROLD HAIG: It’s long overdue. Child migrants have waited a life time for this. We’ve been campaigning for the last 22 years to have this happen and we’re very pleased that the Government and the Prime Minister chose to offer child migrants an apology.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you as an advocate, do you think there’s any place for the Government to offer compensation for the people who were in these institutions?

HAROLD HAIG: I can only speak for child migrants. And yes, we see this apology as the first step on the road to justice and that there would need to be reparation and restitution to complete if you like, so that child migrants finally get justice for the injustices that we’ve suffered for 60 years or more, so yes.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask the Minister then is there any prospect of the Government considering compensation for any of these (inaudible) in the future?

JENNY MACKLIN: As you know a number of the past providers have already paid reparations or compensation and some of the States have also done the same. It’s really is a matter for those people who were responsible to do just that and that’s where the responsibility lies.

JOURNALIST: With the States particularly?

JENNY MACKLIN: With the States and with the previous providers.

Media please note: Leonie Sheedy is from the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) and Harold Haig is from the International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families.