SPEECH: National Apology on Forced Adoptions 10 year anniversary
22 March 2023
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
National Apology for Forced Adoptions: 10th Anniversary
I rise to recognise this very important anniversary. It has been 10 years since the National Apology for Forced Adoptions. I was not yet elected on the day in 2013 when the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologised on behalf of the Australian government to people affected by forced adoptions and removal policies. I am humbled to stand here in the Australian parliament 10 years on to remember those impacted; those who are still grieving; those who have faced a lifetime of uncertainty, loss, trauma and struggle; and those who are sadly no longer with us.
From the 1940s, tens of thousands of babies were taken from their mothers by immoral and indeed often illegal acts. The national apology acknowledged the lifelong pain and suffering associated with forced adoption practices. Mothers were betrayed by a system that gave them no choice and subjected them to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, which left them dealing with that trauma, shame and grief and missing out on loving and caring for their babies. Some remain lost to another forever. Others struggle to reconnect and form relationships or continue to feel the impacts throughout their lives.
Ten years ago, Newcastle resident Therese Pearson was one of those mothers who travelled to Canberra to attend the apology by the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Therese was 19 when her baby boy was taken from her at a Catholic home for unmarried mothers. That was 1964. Sixty years on, she still struggles with that pain. She says, 'They ruined my life.'—that's what she says of the Catholic Church today. Therese was one of more than 400 submissions to the Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices and also gave evidence at a public hearing on 29 April 2011. Therese told the inquiry: 'I did not want to adopt my baby out. I wanted to keep him.' Teresa said she was given drugs and forced to sign adoption papers. Her cousin was a nurse at the hospital and was in the labour ward when Therese gave birth. When Therese asked what sex her baby was, her cousin said she was not supposed to tell her but that she had had a boy. After her son was born, Therese returned to the home for unwed mothers, where she mopped floors and cleaned up after the nuns. She told the inquiry, 'Waitara being a home for adopted and fostered babies, I had to feed, dress, change and bath other babies, which was heart-wrenching since my own baby was taken from me.' I stand here in recognition of Therese, her son, all those mothers and children and all those Newcastle families whose lives have been torn apart by forced adoption.
Therese is involved in a support network, Origins, which was founded back in 1995 by a group of mothers who lost children to those past adoption practices. She was very pleased to know that the 10-year anniversary was being marked in the federal parliament today. This was something that she had called my office about many, many weeks ago. It was playing on her mind, as it does every year, and she wanted to know what the Australian parliament was preparing to do to mark this 10th anniversary. I know she will be pleased to receive a copy of the minister's speech from this morning, to mark this day.
Nothing can bring back those lost years between a mother and child. Nothing can repair the damage to fathers who were also profoundly impacted by these policies and practices. Nothing can assist those siblings, grandparents, partners and other family members who shared in that pain, suffering and unimaginable grief. But the Labor government will keep striving to help heal some of those wounds that families still carry.
The Albanese Labor government has today announced that $700,000 will be provided to deliver trauma-informed support services. We know just how critical trauma-informed practices are, and, if ever we are to try and deal with what is now intergenerational trauma for many of these families, having properly trained people working in accessible and affordable support services is critical. This funding will provide training for aged care, allied health and Forced Adoption Support Service providers to ensure that they can deliver that targeted trauma-informed care. It will mean people affected by forced adoption can access appropriate care that is tailored to their specific needs, whatever stage of life and grief they are in. The government continues to provide $1.8 million annually for the Forced Adoption Support Service, which offers support from the national helpline, casework and support and search services, as well as access to counselling for people across Australia. These are all important services and this government will absolutely honour its commitment to ensure that those services are available, are accessible, and have no fear for their funding going forward.
As Julia Gillard said, in this place on 21 March 2013, 'We resolve, as a nation, to do all in our power to make sure these practices are never repeated.' That's what each and every one of us needs to commit to. In my community of Newcastle there are, sadly, too many families that are impacted by these forced adoption practices, with too much sadness and too much grief. Whilst we will do everything we can to support people today, we on this side of the House—and, I expect, across the parliament as a whole—recommit ourselves on this 10th anniversary to ensuring that those despicable practices and policies are never allowed to see the light of day again in this nation. Of course, it's only by squarely facing the truth of that past that we get to move forward and ensure that it's not repeated. And that's why the apology was so important. That is why those inquiries beforehand were so important, as confronting as they were, as uncomfortable as it might make people feel from time to time. Many of the institutions that people like Therese turned to for some support at a time in her life when she was overwhelmed by being an unwed pregnant young woman at the age of 19 were the very institutions she should have been able to trust, but that trust was utterly betrayed. The Catholic Church, as do all other institutions involved in the forced removal and adoptions of babies, has a lot to answer for, a lot of atonement to make. To the credit of some, that is indeed happening, but it is a mission that they need to recommit themselves to each and every day. As the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said 10 years ago now:
With profound sadness and remorse, we offer you all our unreserved apology.
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