Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge we’re meeting on the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. Mr. Speaker, each of us has a story. Each of us has a narrative about who we are, what we’ve done and what we believe. 25 years ago, this Parliament invited Nancy de Vries to join us on the floor of this chamber to share her story, to speak her truth as a member of the Stolen Generations to tell us how at the age of just 14 months, she was taken from her mother, as she was moved and relocated a staggering 22 times before she turned 18. How growing up Aboriginal in a non-Aboriginal world, Nancy’s childhood was full of fear, rejection, and tears. Mr. Speaker, the tears of loneliness, that only a child that believes she’s unloved can cry. 25 years ago, Nancy de Vries has told this parliament her story. Then we asked her to accept this Parliament’s apology to the Stolen Generation on behalf of the Indigenous community.
Mr. Speaker in her autobiography, One Life Two Stories. Nancy says this about that day, a quarter of a century ago, and what it meant to her, she says:
‘do you know it was the biggest healing moment in my life? When Bob Carr and all those politicians apologized. And let me feel they were they were sorry that it happened to me, and that they would make sure that it never happened.’
So let me expand on Nancy’s word and acknowledge some of those present on that day. Firstly, the role of former Premier Bob Carr from 1995 to 2005. It was his leadership that ensured this parliament was the first to apologize to the Stolen Generations. Dr. Andrew Refshauge the former Deputy Premier and Minister for Indigenous Affairs from ’95 to 2005. Colin Markham Parliamentary Secretary for Indigenous Affairs from ’95 to 1999. Sadly, we lost Col’ in 2020 but we acknowledge his work in the cause of reconciliation and land rights. I also acknowledged the opposition leader at the time Peter Collins for his role in ensuring the Apology was both unanimous and bipartisan. Mr. Speaker a difficult task when you consider large sections of his own party were completely opposed to the apology. And finally, the Minister for Health and Member for Wakehurst, Brad Hazzard as the only remaining member of this House, who spoke in favor of the motion that day. Mr. Speaker, the Government followed up the ’97 Apology with numerous initiatives to create a more equal and inclusive society in this state. Housing was delivered in partnership with Indigenous communities. New employment programs were introduced including Indigenous procurement policies, cadetships and traineeships. There’s a there was a renewed focus on better health services and outcomes in both urban and rural Aboriginal communities. Investments were made in essential infrastructure to deliver clean drinking water and to manage sewerage, and work was done to preserve and document Aboriginal culture and languages.
Mr. Speaker, I think it’s worth noting that not everyone was supportive of this Parliament’s apology. Some claimed hurtfully the generation was not stolen but rescued. Others claim that it never happened at all that the stories of the Stolen Generation was somehow concocted to gain attention or compensation. This had the effect of denying the legitimacy, the pain, the trauma that so many people felt as if some hoped that to deny their voice would make them fall silent. But Mr. Speaker, no one was going to silence the more than 500 people who gave evidence to the Human Rights Commission inquiry into the Stolen Generations. And no one was going to silence Nancy de Vries, who wrote ‘let me tell you, it definitely happened, I have all my own papers and there is not one bit of evidence that my mother signed any paper or that it went to court. It was conveniently removed because I was Aboriginal and because my mum was Aboriginal, perhaps because I was fairer, perhaps because my mother was young, who really knows. That’s how it was then’. Mr. Speaker when this parliament passed its unanimous apology it also rejected this offensive denialism. This Parliament acknowledged the role it played in separating Aboriginal children from their families. How for a century this Parliament enacted laws, which inflicted grief, suffering and humiliation on Indigenous Australians.
Mr. Speaker as a member of the Australian Labor Party, I must also acknowledge the role our party played in this dark history. In 1915 and the NSW Labor Government of William Holman introduced a bill to amend the Aborigines Protections Act. That legislation gave the NSW Aborigines Protection Board, new powers, powers the board had long asked for. The power Mr. Speaker to remove any Indigenous child at any time for any reason. The bill reads as follows:
‘The board may assume full control and custody of the child of any Aborigine if after due inquiry, it is satisfied that such a course is in the interests of the moral and physical welfare of such child. The board may thereupon remove such child to such control and care as it best thinks.’
Mr. Speaker, as if the legislation wasn’t clear enough. The Colonial Secretary John Henry Cann said the following in the second reading speech:
‘The main principle embodied in the proposed amendments is actually to empower the Board to take the place of the parents. It’s not a question of stealing the children, but of saving them.’
At the end of the speech, the Secretary provided a clear statement of what Parliament’s ultimate objective was, and it goes well beyond child welfare.
‘The Aboriginals will soon become a negligible quantity, and the young people will merge into the present civilization and become worthy citizens.’
Mr. Speaker for this legislation passed by a Labor Government for forcibly separating Aboriginal children from their families, for claiming it was done for the children’s own good, I say unreservedly that I am sorry. It is my sincere hope that members of the Stolen Generation here today accept this apology on behalf of our party. As this Parliament did generation before, we must follow up words with action. Bob Carr’s motion committed this Parliament to the goals and processes of Reconciliation. We must use this anniversary to renew our commitment to this goal of achieving a just Reconciliation with our First Nations people.
While this Parliament’s Apology was historic and healed many we still have much work to do. The statistics for Indigenous people remain sobering. Their life expectancy is 8.2 years less than the general population. There is a 25 per cent gap in the 12 attainment and near 30 per cent gap in tertiary education completion. And Mr. Speaker, there are many more difficulties that statistics cannot tell us about the discrimination of First Nations people that they have to overcome each and every day. These are confronting facts, but ones we cannot shy away from.
Today I commit NSW Labor to continuing a dialogue with First Nations people in the state to develop a process of treaty, to build on the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act, self determination and service delivery to improve outcomes for our First Nation communities. Our Federal Government has committed to embracing the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We should offer our Parliament’s support for the new federal government as they work to deliver on the promise of the Uluru Statement at a referendum. Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that this Parliament can show the same spirit of bipartisanship and unanimity it showed 25 years ago, before we had apologized to the Stolen Generation. We all know this is the next great step in our nation’s journey towards genuine Reconciliation with our First Nations people.
Let me conclude by acknowledging those who are with us today, the members of the Stolen Generation and the family of the members of the Stolen Generation. I’d also like to acknowledge all the organizations that make up the Stolen Generations Advisory Council and the people of those organization who have supported them on this journey. Let us all commit to do better by the next generation of Indigenous Australians. Our task is not done, but we can look to the future with hope, optimism and purpose.
CHRIS MINNS MP
NSW LABOR LEADER