“One sweet day all the children came back.
Back where the hearts grow strong.
Back where they all belong.
The children came back.
Back where they understand
Back to their mother’s land
The children came back.”
The late great Archie Roach first performed “Took the Children Away” more than 33 years ago.
Archie spoke of a truth that for many years was denied.
Denied by governments.
And denied by parliaments.
Children were removed from their families because of the colour of their skin.
And it was governments that did it.
Most Australians did not know of this reality.
For decades there was a stubborn silence.
While many of those removed suffered a private pain of unbearable loss.
It was and is one the darkest chapters in our history.
Bringing Them Home
In 1991 the Royal Commission into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Deaths in Custody found that of the 99 deaths it investigated –
43 were of people who were separated from their families.
By 1997 the Bringing Them Home report, which took evidence from hundreds of people from across the country – made 54 recommendations.
The report found that between 1 in 10 and 1 in 3 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970.
One its key recommendations was for an apology to be given by governments.
WA was the first state to issue an apology on 27th May 1997.
And by 2001 all state and territory governments had issued apologies.
The only hold out was the Australian Government under John Howard.
Recently, I went back and looked at some of the accounts in the Bringing Them Home report.
So many tales of heartbreak.
Of lives changed forever.
One harrowing story was from Paul –
Paul’s mother was tricked into putting him into a home while she recovered from a serious illness.
He was made a ward of the state, and his mother’s consent was never sought.
His adoptive family rejected him after seven months and Paul was placed in an orphanage, and later with an abusive foster family.
In his submission, Paul said:
“My Mother never gave up trying to locate me.
She wrote many letters to the State Welfare Authorities, pleading with them to give her son back.
Birthday and Christmas cards were sent care of the Welfare Department.
All these letters were shelved.
The State Welfare Department treated my Mother like dirt, and with utter contempt, as if she never existed.”
The Apology delivered by Prime Minister Rudd was at its core about healing.
Healing deep wounds.
Closing a painful chapter of denial in our history.
And opening a new chapter in our collective story, a better chapter.
It was about people.
The people joining us today –
Hearing from the Prime Minister of Australia a simple word… Sorry.
And you deserve that. You deserve nothing less.
For some the Apology was something to boycott.
Not worthy of listening to.
And I know that some now regret that.
They now say that it was a mistake, not to turn up for the Apology.
We all learn, we all grow.
But now, we have the chance to do something practical – together – to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Something that will have an impact on the ground in communities.
By getting behind the Closing the Gap Implementation Plan –
And by supporting constitutional recognition through Voice.
To do otherwise risks repeating the mistakes of the past.
So, I say, don’t hold us back.
Let’s move Australia forward, for everyone.
Closing The Gap Implementation Plan
18 years have passed since Tom Calma – our Senior Australian of the Year – delivered his Social Justice Report –
Urging governments to commit to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health and life expectancy within 25 years.
16 years since governments pledged to close key gaps in life expectancy –
To halve the gap in mortality rates for children –
And halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements within a decade.
In 2020 governments partnered with the Coalition of Peaks to expand these targets, which now include land, languages, and justice outcomes.
Despite this, report after report, year after year –
Progress has been slow. Too slow.
The Albanese Government’s commitment to Closing the Gap is unequivocal.
Our commitment to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians –
Through the Coalition of the Peaks –
With Pat Turner –
And one day – an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice –
The Albanese Government’s first Closing the Gap Implementation Plan details the next steps the Commonwealth will take –
Towards achieving the targets and priority reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
It includes more than $400 million of additional spending –
This is a whole-of-government plan that brings together in one place all of the actions that each Department and Agency is taking to achieve the Closing the Gap outcomes.
New measures in the 2023 Implementation Plan include:
- $150 million over four years to support First Nations water infrastructure and provide safe and reliable water for remote and regional Indigenous communities.
- $111 million to a new one-year partnership with the Northern Territory Government to accelerate building of new remote housing.
- $11 million for the National Strategy for Food Security.
- Continued funding of $68.6 million for Family Violence and Prevention Legal Service providers.
- $21.9 million to support Support Families impacted by family violence and at risk of engaging in the child protection system.
- $38 million to boost On-Country Education for remote First Nations students.
- And $21 million to support quality boarding for students from remote areas.
It is a disgrace that in 2023, in Australia, there are First Nations communities that still do not have reliable access to safe drinking water.
And we are going to do something about it with our $150 million commitment.
I thank the Minister for Environment and Water for her commitment on this.
This is on top of the $250 million the Prime Minister announced as part of our plan for a Better, Safer Future for Central Australia, where I again visited on the weekend.
We want to better coordinate with the states and territories, and with our community-controlled organisation partners –
This is about getting things done.
And, importantly, for people to hold us to account.
Governments are better when they listen and when they are held to account.
Holding Governments to account was not done in the era of the Stolen Generations.
Nor was listening.
Today, in 2023, a new generation has the chance to do things differently.
To create a better a future.
It’s up to a new generation of Australians to help close the gap.
We are a great country –
And we can be even greater if we get the next steps right.
By making a lasting difference through practical action.
One that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians a Voice.
Let’s seize this moment.
And take Australia forward, for everyone.