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Issue #1537      29 February 2012

Four years on, grief loss – and healing

February 13 marked four years since then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations for the “laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these, our fellow Australians”.

Photo: Wayne Quilliam courtesy of Koori Mail

In ceremonies around the country, Indigenous and other Australians paid tribute to the strength and resilience of the Stolen Generations, spoke about healing and reconciliation and the work that still needs to be done.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda spoke about the emotion of the Apology.

“Like many Australians, I remember where I was on that historic day when the Australian Parliament acknowledged the pain, trauma and distress caused to many of our Elders who were forcibly removed from their families,” he said.

“Like many Australians, I was profoundly moved by the fact that after so many years, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our aunties and uncles and even some of our children, finally received the acknowledgement and apology they deserved for lives torn apart by policies and practices of past governments.”

Mr Gooda said it was time to build on the foundation started by the Apology.

“With bipartisan support, the National Apology brought the nation together,” he said. “I believe the time is right to build on this and take the next step in asking the nation to come together again in one voice and recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.

“I believe in 2012 we stand at a point in time where we truly can focus the nation’s efforts on building understanding and respect for Australia’s First Peoples by recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the nation’s founding document.

“To do otherwise would be a disservice to all our Elders, ourselves and our grandchildren and would rob us as a nation of the opportunity to make a lasting difference.”

In Canberra, the National Stolen Generations Alliance hosted a parliamentary seminar that included a morning tea with Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin and Mr Rudd and launched a new website featuring testimony from members of the Stolen Generations.

In Melbourne, Aboriginal community organisations held a breakfast under the banner of “I feel proud today”.

In Sydney, Ministers Rudd and Macklin attended a breakfast at Government House, where the Healing Foundation’s Florence Onus addressed the audience.

NSW Aboriginal Land Council chair Stephen Ryan used the milestone to criticise the Gillard government’s commitment to Aboriginal affairs, which he said stood in stark contrast to that of the NSW government, which has been working co-operatively with Aboriginal communities on a major reshaping of government policy.


“It’s early days in my state with the O’Farrell government, but they have committed to a ministerial taskforce, and to widespread consultation throughout NSW to address the massive failures of government over the past decade,” he said.

“The O’Farrell government has also kept its promises to keep individual ministers engaged in the process – there are seven ministers on the taskforce, and their personal attention to the consultation process has been a welcome change.

“As I said, it’s early days, but if you can get the conversation with Aboriginal people right, I think you’ve got a much greater chance of getting the outcomes right.”

Mr Ryan said the Gillard government wasn’t talking with the Aboriginal community of NSW.

“The Prime Minister is yet to visit a NSW Aboriginal community, where the majority of Aboriginal Australians live. Her predecessor didn’t either,” he said. “After the recent Tent Embassy fiasco, I think the Gillard government needs to also look at how it can reset the relationship with Aboriginal people.

“I don’t doubt their intentions – no-one wants to see my people stuck with third-world life statistics, as is the case in many communities in NSW and beyond.

“What I doubt is their political resolve to get the job done.”

St Vincent de Paul Society National Council chief executive Dr John Falzon called on the federal government to “reverse its roll-out of damaging policies such as compulsory income management and the School Enrolment and Attendance Measure (SEAM)”.

“The members of the St Vincent de Paul Society were deeply moved by the events of 13th February, 2008. We will never forget the powerful words of the then Prime Minister…,” he said.

“Neither can we forget the graciousness and generosity of spirit shown by Australia’s First Peoples, including members of the Stolen Generations, in accepting this apology.

“It was a time of deep reflection. Now it is the time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be able to determine their own futures rather than suffering the indignity and degradation of policies that discriminate against them and take away control over their lives.

“We also continue to be deeply concerned by the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Indigenous Australians, especially the young.”

Glenice Garvie, who is the first director appointed to the designated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian Association of Social Workers board position, said it was a very emotional day.

“I remember the lives of people who were and are part of my life and who helped shape me to be the person I am today,” she said.

“To me the Apology was a very powerful thing as it acknowledged what we Aboriginal people knew to be the truth. That is all I needed to know and now I can move on with my life and not pretend nothing happened.”

The Koori Mail  

Next article – Vic nurses’ rolling stoppages – ANF statement

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