National Apology to the Stolen Generations: 16th Anniversary


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (10:40): I rise to speak in continuation on the 16th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations and the Closing the gap annual report. In the first part of my speech, I reflected on the power of then prime minister Kevin Rudd's 2008 national apology to Australia's First Nations people whose lives had been completely turned upside down by past government policies of that forced child removal and assimilation. Primarily, it was an apology on behalf of the nation to those stolen generations. I reflected on the extraordinary life of the late Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue, who was a trailblazing Aboriginal woman and leader who herself was stolen from her family at the age of just two and raised in a mission home devoid of love and her family life.

Here we are, 16 years after the apology, and only 11 out of 19 socioeconomic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are improving. Indicators around life expectancy, children's health, education, youth employment, housing and the maintenance of culture and economic relationships with land are improving, but they are still not there. Just four are on track to meet their targets. This is completely unacceptable. Tragically, outcomes have worsened for children's early development, rates of children in out-of-home care, rates of adult imprisonment and suicide. Put simply, there is so much work to be done in order to close the gap. That is not dissimilar to the speech I just gave a little earlier. Each year, I have stood in this parliament to report on or to respond to the report about how we're going on closing the gap. No-one thinks that this is something to be turned around overnight, but the previous 10 years of inaction mean that we really have got to accelerate the efforts that we make, and I know the government is seeking to do that.

Just seven years ago at Uluru, Aboriginal people called for a voice to parliament to be seated at the table for matters that concern them, and last year we put that question to the people of Australia. Sadly, it was not supported, for a whole lot of complicated reasons that I won't have time to go into today, but what we do know is that Aboriginal people supported it. So there is a desperate appetite to be part of decision-making processes and design processes for what governments of all levels in all jurisdictions might do in terms of working to close the gap. Our resolve is not diminished by the unsuccessful referendum, but we are absolutely making sure that First Nations people continue to have a voice, even if it's not in the form that was put during that referendum process.

We've also announced the establishment of a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's commission, a new office that will protect and promote the rights of children. That will play a very important role in the work of this government going forward.

There is a lot more to do in terms of employment and education. There have been some great announcements, particularly in the Northern Territory, and I acknowledge your advocacy in that regard, Deputy Speaker Scrymgour, ensuring there are improvements for housing, employment and the justice reinvestment programs that this government is keen to see rolled out, making sure that we have genuine partnerships with those communities most impacted and most affected. As the Prime Minister said, if we want to close the gap, we have to listen to the people who live on the other side of it, and that is exactly what we will be doing.