National Apology Day Breakfast

Prime Minister

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting.

I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

I also pass on my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that are with us here this morning.

And I particularly want to acknowledge every member of the Stolen Generations who are here with us today.

It is such an honour for me to be here with you.

Just as it was an extraordinary honour for me to be able to play a part in that extraordinary day sixteen years ago.

The apology was the very first order of business of the newly elected Rudd Labor Government.

It was the fulfilment of a priority.

It was the overdue acknowledgement of a great hurt.

It was the act of a nation that will no longer turn its back.

And it was our ears and hearts finally open for all who had for so long been telling us a difficult truth.

Survivors speaking for themselves, speaking for those who couldn’t.

Our nation was lifted by the courage of everyone who spoke up.

Everyone who told their stories and took on the burden, and so often the trauma, of revisiting their childhood.

And courage is what we saw in every member of the Stolen Generations who came here that day and faced the very institution that had failed you and failed you profoundly.

Alongside your courage, you showed us grace, almost beyond imagining.

Perhaps most importantly, you showed us that when we have an honest reckoning of the past, we give ourselves a better future.

And a big part of that is the healing that began sixteen years ago with just one word – Sorry.

Easy now to remember that the uttering of that word by an Australian Prime Minister was not inevitable, and was controversial at the time.

It was the right thing to do.

We always talk about healing in the present tense because it is ongoing.

It is in every sense a work in progress.

A task that takes in not just our history, but also our future.

We try to reconcile the past, not as an exercise in blame, but as a necessary step to move forward.

You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, to put it really simply.

I can tell you, there are many moments that I’m proud of as a Parliamentarian.

That extraordinary day sixteen years ago, remains my proudest.

That was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Of course, the new chapter has not been straightforward, a fact that has been emphasised by the latest Closing the Gap Report.

Closing the Gap and the Government’s implementation plan have rightly been returned to February.

Closing the Gap is part of a new chapter that the Apology made possible. They belong together.

And when we confront the many challenges in closing the gap we should always look to the courage of the survivors who have made it all possible.

You have our respect and you have our gratitude.

We will keep tackling these challenges.

The courage shown by my Minister for Indigenous Australians in leading the campaign along with Patrick Dodson, who we do miss, indeed very sincerely, his wisdom in this building.

The courage in taking forward a referendum to recognise First Nations people in our constitution in the form in which they themselves requested, through the gracious Uluru Statement from the Heart, is one that was a necessary step going forward as well.

We were disappointed by the result.

We respect the outcome.

But it does not diminish one bit our determination to listen to First Nations people about how to close the gap.

It was never the end.

It was the means to the end.

The end is reconciliation.

The end is closing the gap in life expectancy, in education outcomes, health outcomes, housing outcomes.

This gap in all of these areas diminishes us as a nation.

And the Productivity Commission, no less, has confirmed that the key to advancing is indeed listening to people who are directly affected as we move forward.

So we will keep tackling these challenges.

We will continue to work each and every day with our commitment to First Nations people and to reconciliation, undiminished.

Empowered by the courage of those First Nations people who I was proud to stand with and humbled by their grace and dignity during and after that referendum campaign.

I do thank every single survivor who showed us a new path ahead.

We will keep walking along this path and we’ll do so together.

Because I firmly believe that the Australian people want reconciliation.

But they want us to move forward as a nation.

And they recognise that the gaps which are there in so many aspects.

And we know, we’ll hear later today, only four of the nineteen. That’s not a pass mark for us as a nation.

And all of us, regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, need to recognise that we need to do better.

We must do better because First Nations people deserve this.

But the Australian nation, founded as we are on the concept of a fair go, and respecting each other regardless of our origins, deserve this as well.

Thank you.

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