Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Anniversary of Apology – Sorry is more than just a word exhibition

Location: Australian Parliament House, Canberra

*** E &OE – PROOF ONLY ***

I would like to thank Aunty Matilda for another inspiring Welcome to Country, and to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand.

As you know, the Prime Minister was determined to be here today.

But the catastrophic events of the past days mean he is focused on the bushfire emergency.

The first Anniversary of the Apology is immensely important to him.

He has asked me to pass on his deep regret that he cannot be here and deliver this speech on his behalf.

Over the last few days the Prime Minister and I have spoken to people affected by the fires – survivors, fire fighters, emergency workers, volunteers.

We’ve heard some extraordinary stories of escape and heroism.

Among them, the story of an Aboriginal mother and her three young children trying to escape the fires.

She drove to a creek bed, grabbed the children and hid in a wombat hole as the fire roared over them. All four survived.

Just as uplifting, the remarkable outpouring of sympathy and generosity uniting our country to do all we can to help.

In the most remote parts of Australia, the Red Cross says people are lining up to give blood.

As I said, the Prime Minister regrets that he cannot be here but his thoughts are here with us.

It’s a great privilege to launch this terrific exhibition – “Sorry – more than just a word” – featuring the work of the celebrated Indigenous photographers, Wayne Quilliam and Merv Bishop.

Merv Bishop is perhaps best known for the iconic photograph of Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hand of Gurindji traditional owner, Vincent Lingiari, at the handover of the deeds to Gurindji country at Wattie Creek.

Wayne Quilliam, featured in the permanent Bayagul exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

He recently won the 2008 Human Rights Award for Print Media in partnership with Koori Mail, for the National Apology commemorative lift out.

Their photographs of the Apology in Parliament House one year ago today are a superb record of that momentous day.

When the Prime Minister made an Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples on behalf of the Government and Parliament of Australia.

Kevin Rudd said sorry for the laws and policies that inflicted such profound grief, suffering and loss on our fellow Australians.

In particular, he said sorry to the Stolen Generations.

Those who suffered the hurt, the humiliation, the cruelty and the sheer brutality of being taken away from their parents, their families and their people.

The Apology was based on an exercise of the imagination that is so simple.

And that is to ask ourselves: How would I feel if it had been done to me?

The Australian Government offered this Apology because it was unfinished business for our nation.

Because unless we acknowledge and become fully reconciled to the past, Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians cannot come together to build a better future.

Because the past cannot be denied – it is what we inherit, what shapes us, what we live every day – as individuals, as a people and as a nation.

Just this week Reconciliation Australia released the findings of its first Reconciliation Barometer – looking at changes in attitudes since the Apology.

It shows there is still much to be done to build trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

But there is also much cause for hope.

More than three-quarters of Australians say they would like to have more contact with Indigenous people.

However only 20 per cent of Australians say they know what they can do to help disadvantaged Indigenous people.

To me, this shows that although there is much goodwill, we still need to find ways to get to know each other better.

I think the Apology gave us the impetus to make that happen.

But as the Prime Minister said then, the great symbolism of the Apology must be followed by the even greater substance of action.

The practical, determined action to close the gap in Indigenous life expectancy, health, housing, education and employment.

In the year since the Apology was delivered in this parliament, we have supported a range of projects for the Stolen Generations:

  • National Sorry Day commemorations.
  • More Bringing Them Home counsellors and case workers.
  • The further collection and publication of Stolen Generations’ oral histories; and
  • The Indigenous Healing Forum launched here in Canberra in September. This was an important step – a formal recognition of the impact of grieving and trauma on Indigenous people.

Today I am pleased to announce that the Government will establish a Foundation to provide practical and innovative healing services.

Including training and research, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially Stolen Generation members and their families.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the establishment of this Foundation will be led by an interim group headed by Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue and Mr Greg Phillips.

Dr O’Donoghue is with us today. She is a senior Stolen Generation member and a former Australian of the Year.

Mr Phillips is also with us today. He has standout expertise in the area of Indigenous peoples’ healing and trauma.

These community leaders will bring sensitivity, compassion and direction to this important work.

We hope crucial partnerships will be forged to draw on the important contributions of the Stolen Generations Alliance and National Sorry Day Committee, and others who participated in the Healing forum.

I am also pleased to announce on behalf of Minister Nicola Roxon a further expansion of the Link Up program.

This will create positions for 11 more Link Up Caseworkers and five more Link Up administration staff.

Through this we aim to bring more people together through individual reunions and around 100 ‘Return to Country’ reunions.

I’m also determined that the significance of the apology lives on in our children and their children.

As a start, to commemorate the first anniversary of the Apology and to encourage schools to participate, I have written to every school in Australia and sent them a copy of the Apology Calligraphy Manuscript.

Across Australia today, apology breakfasts, school ceremonies, special sporting matches and barbeques are happening to mark the anniversary.

This exhibition matters because we need to keep telling the stories of the Stolen Generation and of our history.

They are Australian stories.

They tell us who we have been and who we are.

And how great a people we can be when we make our journey together.