Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Questions without Notice
Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. What is the Australian government doing to acknowledge the experience of children who suffered in the past in institutions and out-of-home care?
I thank the member for Dobell for his question. On 16 November, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will offer a national apology to more than half a million forgotten Australians and former child migrants—those more than half a million people who grew up without their families: their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. More than 500,000 children were deprived of their childhood for many reasons. Whether it was through child migration, the death of a parent, poverty or illness, these were events beyond their control and for so many there was no safety net to catch them. It meant that little children, even babies, were left alone to fend for themselves in institutions and in foster homes.
For the most part, these were cold, loveless, authoritarian places, with no time at all for the exuberance and innocence of childhood; no time for the love or laughter and warmth of family life; no time to play, to eat healthy food or to get a decent education. Instead of school, for many of them of course there was menial, hard work, so that when they were released into the outside world, many of them could neither read nor write. Many of these children were subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those who had responsibility to care for them. Today, many of them continue to struggle as a result of their experiences, grappling with mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse, and educational and family relationship difficulties.
On 16 November, together as a nation we will acknowledge their experiences and together apologise for their loss—the loss of identity, family, and, in the case of former child migrants, the loss of country. These are the children who grew up in children’s homes, orphanages and other forms of out-of-home care between the 1920s and the late 1970s. They have become known as the forgotten Australians, and they also include the 7,000 people who arrived in Australia as children from the United Kingdom and Malta under historical migration schemes and who were also subsequently placed in homes and orphanages. We have had three unanimous Senate inquiries calling for an apology and I am very pleased at the way we have been able to work across the parliament to develop the proposals for the apology.
I would particularly like to thank the members for Corio, Blaxland and Swan, as well as all the senators who have been involved in those inquiries over many years. I would like to acknowledge the very significant work done by former Democrat Senator Andrew Murray, who is heading the advisory committee alongside the interest groups. I would like to mention and thank the individuals involved: Ian Thwaites, from the Child Migrants Trust; Harold Haig, from the International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families; Caroline Carroll, from the Alliance for Forgotten Australians; and Leonie Sheedy, from the Care Leavers of Australia Network. All of these people—members, senators and these representatives—have been extremely helpful in making sure that we get this apology right.
The apology will be delivered on behalf of all Australians at a special remembrance event in the Members Hall in Parliament House. It will then be tabled in the House of Representatives and the Senate to enable all of us to contribute to the debate. It will make sure we put what has been a largely invisible period of our history on the record. It will acknowledge that what happened to these children was real and it was wrong. It will demonstrate our shared resolve to make sure that this never happens again.
On indulgence: on behalf of the Liberal-National Party coalition, I would like to associate us with the comments made by the minister. This will be an acknowledgement for a lot of Australians—500,000, as the minister mentioned. I know that the Leader of the Opposition is looking forward to delivering the apology on behalf of the coalition on 16 November.
I was in an institution at an early age but was fortunate enough to move into a foster care situation, which was a positive outcome. Members of my family and many Australians suffered in institutions and as wards of state in abusive and uncaring situations. The members of CLAN, the forgotten Australian and UK migrants, and the other associations who represent those people are looking forward to this apology. It needs to be taken by all the members of this place and the other place and fed out to their electorates so that we make this apology as important and significant as we can. It is vital to these people. They are not looking to further or enhance their situation; they are just looking for acknowledgement that they suffered. They did suffer. They were put into institutions where they would have expected—as all Australians would have expected—that they would be nurtured and cared for, which they were not. So, on behalf of the coalition, I associate our side of the House with the minister’s comments. Excuse me for getting a bit emotional, but it is an important apology to these people. I thank you for the opportunity to acknowledge that.
I thank the House for the reaction given to the question by the member for Dobell, the answer by the minister and the speech on indulgence by the member for Swan in supporting this step in national leadership on this important matter.