SPEECH - Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme Bill
26 October 2021
It is a genuine privilege to rise in this chamber this evening to speak on the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme (Facilitation) Bill 2021 and the related bills. These bills will go some way to addressing a grave, grave injustice for stolen generations in the Northern Territory and the ACT.
The removal of children from their families, now almost a centuries-long—plural—practice by governments across Australia, has created the most enormous trauma that has also transcended generations. At the outset, I want to pay tribute to those who spoke earlier in this debate: the member for Barton and, indeed, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Mr Ken Wyatt. They had very personal stories. Clearly, extremely, they're so grounded in this history of the stolen generations and the centuries-long practice of forced removal of children. I could distinctly hear the pain in their voices before me, and I just want to put on the record that I acknowledge that pain and that it is felt by so many thousands of First Nations people in Australia.
The separation of families and the destruction of communities on a massive scale cannot simply be forgotten. The fear of pain remains, not only with members of the stolen generations but with their children, their cousins and their grandchildren. That is a very deep, genuine fear that remains for so many people. No amount of money is going to undo that. It cannot adequately compensate individuals, families or communities for the extent of damage that has been done nor for the long shadow that the trauma has now cast, as I said, over multiple generations. That's on their relationships, their health, their mental health, their economic prospects and their capacity to live their culture—to feel strong in language and identity. It is such a tribute that there is a strong generation of First Nations people coming through, very proudly identifying and grounded in their identity. But that does not mask the fact that there is a great deal of trauma for many people who have direct experience of either themselves or someone in their family being forcibly removed.
That horror and that systemic pain, which is felt, very literally, within people's bodies, goes a long way to help explain the profound distrust of authority—schools, police and policies of governments and parliaments like our own—that many First Nations people have. That is something we all need to really wrestle with as well: how best to make amends. So today, I think, is a very timely reminder of how much work we still have to do as a country, as a parliament and as a community to help rebuild that trust. The most important thing about the scheme that is now being proposed and finally being established is that it gives the stolen generations people recognition: recognition of what was done to them, recognition that it was wrong and racist, and recognition of each and every person 's story.
Sadly, thousands of people who would have been eligible to claim this compensation are no longer with us. It's too late for this scheme to be of benefit to many in the stolen generations, who have passed. They passed without having any justice. That makes me profoundly sad, but it should also make us very determined not to allow this to drag on another moment longer. As a parliament and a country, we failed in one of the most important and basic duties we have, and that is never to harm children.
I know there have been many references here to Kevin Rudd's Apology to the Stolen Generations, which took place in this House on behalf of the parliament and this nation. It was a very powerful recognition. But, of course, the hard work is yet to happen. Apologies are never the full-stop moment in the process; they are really just the very start. I spoke earlier, in the other chamber, on the anniversary of the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, and I made the same point: these apologies are really just the beginning of a very long journey that we have in order to make amends for those gross injustices.
The purpose of these bills before us tonight is really to put in place a policy for stolen generations reparations, and Labor welcomes this with open arms. We do so because, frankly, this is an adoption of Labor policy, and I say that with a generous heart. I think it is fantastic that the government has taken a Labor policy, seen the worth of it and known that it was a good idea. It's been too long in the making, to be sure, but they decided to take on that proposal to ensure that stolen generations people do receive reparations: in this case, $75,000 in compensation plus a $7,000 ancillary payments option. We genuinely welcome the government picking up this Labor policy and trying to implement that. That is a good thing. Whether they just recognised a good policy when they saw it or whether the launch of the class action by 800 members of the stolen generations in the Northern Territory earlier this year might have prodded some action on this matter and had something to do with the timing is a matter that only the Morrison government can speak to. Regardless of how you got here, I welcome the fact that you have taken what is a fundamentally good and just policy. The hard work will now be in the implementation.
Whilst we welcome the funding for the Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme, this package is only for surviving members of the stolen generations—so it is not for family members who we know have already passed. I think that needs to be made very clear. There are shortcomings in this scheme. Also, there are many people reflecting today that there are members in this parliament today who walked out on the apology to the stolen generations when it was conducted in this House over 13 years ago. Let's hope there has been much more goodwill coming to the table to ensure the success of this package before the House. We will be watching the scheme's design and implementation very, very closely. The government must get this right.
I have sat here for the last two terms watching over the implementation of the National Redress Scheme, and the government has been found wanting on a number of occasions. It is critically important that we have a forensic approach to the implementation of this scheme. These bills don't actually establish the scheme itself, because the government's going to make those more detailed announcements in terms of policy commitments rather than legal entitlements, it would seem. Instead, what the government really must do now is ensure these payments will not count as income for the purposes of social security or the veterans' entitlements means test; that is important. They must be exempt from taxation. They must be protected from creditors in any case of bankruptcy; that is another very important matter. And we must allow information to be cross-checked with the Department of Social Services to verify identity—if a person can't verify their identify by providing a Centrelink customer reference number, for example.
In setting the scheme up, it is critically important the government learns from the mistakes and the issues that have become so apparent in the National Redress Scheme for institutional child sexual abuse. These are the flags that Labor is putting in the ground for the government now. We are warning the government: you must work closely with stolen generations survivor groups at every single stage of the design process. That includes the Healing Foundation, the Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation and the other groups in the NT, the ACT and Jervis Bay. If those people are not involved each and every step of the way, this scheme will not live up to expectations. It will not deliver the justice that stolen generations people deserve and are seeking, and they will hold each and every one of us to account if it's not delivered.
We will be making sure that, locally, culturally appropriate support is also available at every step. These are critically important components of any scheme. We'll be making sure the government protects people's privacy and believes them. We'll be making sure that the process for a personal apology and acknowledgement is meaningful and sincere. Of course, I am very mindful of the fact that today there are shocking numbers of First Nations children who are in out-of-home care. It is very sobering to think about that matter and to wonder if there will in fact be another stolen generation under our own watch if that trajectory of removing kids and placing them in out-of-home care at the rates that are currently being pursued is to continue. I am deeply worried about that. Even if the government's current out-of-home care closing the gap goal was met—a 45 per cent reduction by 2031—the rate of First Nations kids in out-of-home care is still going to be five times higher than the non-Indigenous population. We cannot accept a situation that has the makings of another apology or another future redress scheme. That is a diabolical scenario, and it should not be beyond us to ensure that never happens again. Australia's past policies of systemic child removal destroyed families, decimated cultures in many parts of this country and hurt all of us. Our entire nation is stained by those deplorable practices. Hopefully this scheme and the recognition of wrong it will afford goes some way to making amends to those who were betrayed enormously.