On this day 16 years ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of Australian Parliament to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly to the Stolen Generations whose lives had been blighted by past government policies of forced child removal and assimilation.
What prompted the apology?
It began with the Bringing them Home Report (1997), which was instigated via national inquiry by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission during 1995 and 1997. The national inquiry obtained testimony from 535 First Nations peoples and hundreds of letters and testimonies from other people. It unveiled the reality that there is not a single family who was not affected by the Stolen Generations.
“Between 1910 and 1970 thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families and communities by churches, welfare organisations and governments. The exact number is not known. However, is estimated that, anywhere from one in 10 to one in three Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and fostered or adopted by non-Indigenous families or raised in institutions. These children are known as the Stolen Generations. Many experienced neglect, physical and sexual abuse and exploitative labour, and were denied contact with their families.”
The Bringing them Home Report (1997)1 contained 54 recommendations to redress the wrongs, which included an official acknowledgement and apology for, the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.2
Between 1997 and 1999 all State and Territory parliaments officially apologised to the Stolen Generations, their families and communities for the laws, policies and practices which had governed forcible removal.
In May 2000, in support of reconciliation and in protest of the Australian Government’s lack of an official apology, nearly 250,000 Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and more throughout the country.3
This led to the national apology delivered by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, an acknowledgement of past atrocities and the future of healing the nation.
“That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
“We reflect on their past mistreatment.
“We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
“We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
“For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
“To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
“And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”
Apology to the Stolen Generations, Kevin Rudd, 20084
Looking to the future
The 2022 Closing the Gap Report showed that 42.8 per cent of children aged birth to 17 years in out-of-home care are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.5
While the intention of child removal may be different to the Stolen Generations, it still bears the same effect: a loss of identity and the exacerbation of intergenerational trauma.6