1st Anniversary of the National Apology for Forced Adoptions

Speech Location:

Parliament House, Canberra

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Professor Mushin, Mr David Fricker from the National Archives, Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

I’m pleased to be able to be here on this important occasion and may I also acknowledge the Members of the Forced Adoption Implementation Working Group.

It was Shakespeare who advised:
“Give sorrow words.
The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er fraught heart
and bids it break.”

And for far too long, the unspoken grief of those suffering from forced adoption caused hearts to shatter right throughout this country.

But one year ago in this place, that sorrow was finally given words.

One year ago, the Australian Parliament made a formal statement of apology for the unprincipled past practices that forcibly took babies from their mothers.

Instances of forced adoption were acts of dual betrayal; acts of trickery and treachery that traumatised mothers and adoptees alike.

Mothers were often deceived or browbeaten into signing consent documents in a manner that was both immoral and illegal.

Their children grew up under the false belief they were unwanted by their mothers.

The pain inflicted by forced adoption has spawned a lifelong legacy of suffering.

The ache and the agony that never fades.

We know how much these mothers wanted to love and nurture their children.

And we know how those children – now grown to adulthood – need to hear that it was neither their mothers’ fault, nor their own.

We likewise should not forget the fathers, who were excluded from the lives of their children.

They have also born a constant burden of grief throughout past decades.

The Government is committed to ensuring the public is aware of the dark history of forced adoption in Australia.

I’d like to commend the National Archives of Australia for its work to create a website the documents the experiences of those affected by forced adoption.

And the Archives’ have taken an innovative approach that allows those affected by forced adoption to update this website with their personal experiences.

I’m particularly pleased by the Archives’ plans to develop a travelling exhibition that will provide a historical narrative of what occurred.

It’s exceedingly important that Australians throughout the country should learn about this dark chapter of our history.

It’s said that knowledge is power.

And the knowledge of what was once done gives us the power to assist us in our endeavours to ensure that coercive adoption practices will never happen again in Australia.

The emotional injury inflicted by forced adoption has created a special set of needs amongst those affected.

And the Senate Inquiry highlighted existing gaps in the availability of specialist services like counselling and records tracing.

The Government is working to address those gaps and we hope to have tailored support services up-and-running by the middle of the year.

Those affected by forced adoption are the people whose views matter most.

And it is from them we are currently seeking advice on how these services can be most effectively delivered.

I also want to recognise the outstanding work done by members of the Forced Adoption Implementation Working Group who have worked with the Government to implement the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry.

Their advice and counsel has been invaluable.

We’ve also been blessed to have Professor Mushin as Chair of the Working Group.

His rare combination of empathy and integrity has earned the respect of all involved.

I’d also like to thank Senators Boyce, Moore and Siewert for their tireless work to redress the wrongs of forced adoption.

And most importantly I need to thank the other members of the Working Group who have been so selfless with their time:

  • Dr Christine Cole
  • Mr Gary Coles
  • Mr Thomas Graham
  • Mr Leigh Hubbard
  • Ms Sue MacDonald
  • Ms Kathryn Rendell
  • Ms Evelyn Robinson; and
  • Ms Kathie Scott

Their suggestions and their experience has proven invaluable.

I’m pleased to announce that the words of apology to those affected by forced adoption will be displayed in the Members’ Hall of Parliament House.

These words will remain there for all Australians to read and reflect upon, thus gaining a greater awareness of the wrongs and injustices that mar our history.

Thank you very much.