Stolen Aboriginal Children

About this Item
SpeakersMarkham Mr Colin; Collins The Hon Peter; Thompson Mr George; Hazzard Mr Brad; Watkins Mr John
BusinessBusiness of the House

Urgent Motion

Question - That the motion for urgent consideration of the honourable member for Keira be proceeded with - agreed to.

Mr MARKHAM (Keira) [3.17 p.m.]: I move:
      That this House, as a matter of urgency -
      (1) Calls on the Federal Government to immediately release the report on the stolen generation.
      (2) Acts to nominate a national day of sorrow.

On 10 December 1992 at Redfern Mr Paul Keating said:

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      It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children away from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things done to us.

That statement sums up what has happened in this country over the last 200 years. In 1995 the then Federal Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch, requested the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to undertake a national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The first hearing was conducted on 4 December 1995 at Flinders Island with the last hearing in Redfern during October 1996. There were 777 submissions received. In addition, 500 confidential submissions were received as well as another 500 other submissions from individuals and community groups. Various State and Federal governments participated in that inquiry.

It is estimated that in New South Wales alone between 1903 and 1930 over one-third of all Aboriginal children were taken from their families. Approximately 30 per cent of them were girls aged between 12 and 15 years, who were sent off to work for white families virtually as slaves. The New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board was abolished in 1969 but not before it had removed 10,000 - one in five - Aboriginal children from their families. Of the 99 deaths investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 43 of the people involved had been taken from their families. The report of the national inquiry, which is entitled "Bringing them Home", states at page 4:
      The laws, policies and practices mark one of the most shameful eras in Australian history.

Peter Read, in an introduction to his book The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969 states:
      When I wrote the Stolen Generations in 1981, child separation was scarcely talked about. Non-Aborigines said that it couldn’t have happened . . . They believed that maybe their parents had not been able to care for them properly, or worse still, didn’t want them.
      Sixteen years later, thousands of children throughout Australia have spoken out against the pain they endured, and are still enduring.

Now we can see the policy for what it was, an attempt to put an end to the Aboriginal people of Australia. Everyone in this country should be totally ashamed of what happened to many of the young girls and young women who were taken from their families. The consequences have been far-reaching and tragic. An examination of the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody indicates that a number of those who identified as being children from the stolen generation died in prisons in this country - another shameful act that we should all regret. In the midst of the vicious and slanderous attack on Sir Ronald Wilson, let us not forget the pain and suffering endured by thousands and thousands of Aboriginal families whose lives were taken away from them, all in the best interests of the child. I do not believe there would be one person in this Parliament, or in any other parliament in this country, who would not object strenuously, if not physically, to the stealing of children from their families.

On many occasions Aboriginal people from the stolen generations have explained to me the grief and hurt, and feeling of dispossession of their rights within their own country as something they have never been able to come to terms with. I have no doubt that the deaths of many Aboriginal people in prison were driven by the belief that they were not wanted, were not loved and were not respected - not by their families but by people in this country: Australians. Let me take this opportunity to applaud the wonderful work done by Link-Up New South Wales, an organisation that assists Aboriginal adults who were taken from their families as children. Those children were raised by non-Aboriginal people in private homes, or institutionalised. I want to bring to the attention of honourable members a very poignant verse composed by Pauline McLeod which indicates what Link-Up is all about:
              ‘The yearning of my soul’
              There was another part of me;
              Another part of my life.
              My natural family taken from me;
              Hidden throughout my life.
              The feeling was becoming stronger.
              I could no longer ignore the call.
              Something was happening within me.
              Breaking down my hidden wall.
              To become a person complete;
              A woman becoming whole.
              Black and beautiful,
              For the first time. I listen:
              To the yearning of my soul.

That is on a poster that Link-Up distributes widely throughout Australia. I believe it spells out the concerns of Aboriginal people and we should all take note of what it says. Many of the people grew up not knowing their Aboriginal families and Aboriginal culture. Link-Up New South Wales helps these people to find their families, and Aboriginal heritage and culture. Sir Ronald Wilson has publicly
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apologised for his involvement. How many can say the same? We all should say exactly what Sir Ronald said. The recent attacks on him should be seen for what they are: a cowardly attack of the lowest form. The fact that the man was involved personally in what happened is no justification for the Federal Government to attack him. No-one could better understand what Aboriginal people who were stolen from their families feel every day of their lives than someone involved in the area of the church that he was involved in.

This is not about a black-arm view of history, as Prime Minister Howard so keenly proclaimed. This is not about living in the past. This is about acknowledging the involvement of the various government and church groups in committing an act of cultural genocide. Honourable members know that the best way to bring about genocide is to destroy language and we, in this country, have tried very hard to do that during the past 209 years. The prevailing view during all this time, over generations, was that this was done in the best interests of the child. How could it be said that separating young children, sometimes whole families, from their mothers and from all things loved and familiar - their culture, their language, their identity - was in their best interests?

The past does indeed affect the present. We as a State, as a nation, cannot possibly comprehend the damage that has been done. What we can do is, firstly, acknowledge that this occurred and, secondly, try to understand the effects it has had on generations of Aboriginal families. We simply cannot afford not to do these things: it is in the best interests of the nation to do so. The time for reconciliation and national healing could not have come at a better time in Australia’s history. If the situation had been reversed, there would be a public outcry and the government of the day would be falling over itself to repair the damage. I can vividly understand that and I hope we as a parliament can address some of those dreadful occurrences of the past. We have a great opportunity to do it today and into the future, and I believe it is absolutely imperative that this House puts its views well and truly on the record and condemns the views and actions of past governments.

Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Leader of the Opposition) [3.27 p.m.]: On behalf of the Opposition I wholeheartedly support the sentiments expressed by the honourable member. Next week Australians will learn the full extent of a policy catastrophe administered by Commonwealth governments of both political persuasions for most of this century. When Attorney-General Daryl Williams tables the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report called "Bringing them Home" the Australian people will know for the first time the impact of a policy which continued to operate, I say with some shame, until 1970. It was a policy which saw 100,000 Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents, because they were Aboriginal children. It was a policy that has seen 10 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged 25 years and over separated from their families.

It was a policy that resulted in the unchecked perpetration of sexual and physical abuse. Although it is true that the policy was never motivated by malice, it was, tragically, always inspired by ignorance. Australia’s record of splitting up Aboriginal families is a shameful stain on our national history. If it had happened overnight, or under the gaze of today’s international media, this policy would now place Australia amongst the nations of the world whose appalling human rights records rightly attract the opprobrium of all right-thinking people. Instead, it has escaped scrutiny, hidden under layers of bureaucracy and diluted over many decades. That is why Sir Ronald Wilson’s report is so important.

The report was commissioned on 2 August 1995 by the then Attorney-General, with a reporting date of December 1996. When it became apparent that the commission could not complete the task within the inadequate time allowed by the previous Government, the new coalition Government under John Howard extended the time for reporting. Moreover, it adjusted the commission’s 1996-97 budget to give it the additional funds to do so. The report was completed for tabling just eight days ago and will be tabled at the next opportunity, that is, when Federal Parliament sits next week. The commission’s recommendations are wide-ranging and traverse the field of responsibility of not only the Commonwealth Government, but also State and Territory governments and many non-government organisations. As such they require careful and coordinated handling.

The release of this report is at the same time both heartening and ominous. It is heartening because, as a nation, we have collectively recognised a wrong and set to work on putting it right. It is heartening because it symbolises our growing maturity and tolerance as a people, a people able to look at our mistakes and own up to them. It is heartening because all fair-minded Australians recognise the fundamental error of this policy. That sentiment is perhaps best expressed not by speeches in this place but by ordinary Australians. Any reader of today’s Sydney Morning Herald will have noticed
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more than a dozen letters devoted to the subject. The most moving was written by Sue Olsen of Blackheath, who offered a perspective that is easily overlooked. She is an adoptive mother. She wrote:
      Our children have always known they are Aboriginal and adopted and we have tried to bring them up to be proud of who they are . . .
      When we adopted our children in 1977 and 1980, we believed their mothers wanted them to be adopted. Now I am not so sure. I find the TV programs on the "stolen generation" almost too painful to watch and I am filled with guilt . . .
      I want my children to find their natural families, to clean the wound and fill it with hope, and peace of mind. I acknowledge . . . my own grief and pain as an adoptive mother.

I said a few moments ago that the release of this report was ominous as well as heartening. It is ominous because of the reaction of some Australians on the fringe of the Australia political landscape. The Federal member for Oxley, for instance, has likened the forced separation policy to today’s policy of removing children from families which do not look after their welfare. But there is a fundamental distinction to be made. They are two totally different policies, but the Federal member for Oxley blurred them and made them one in her comments on radio this morning. We are talking about forced removal of children simply because they were Aboriginal children. We are not talking about children removed from families who did not look after their welfare. The Federal member for Oxley said this morning:
      Many of the children that were taken away are only alive today because they were taken. They more than likely lived a better lifestyle and are healthier and better educated than they otherwise would have been.

These ignorant and inflammatory remarks deserve unqualified condemnation. I state again, there is a clear separation of policies. There is no parallel to be drawn between the forced removal of Aboriginal children because they happened to be Aboriginal and the removal of children because their families did not look after them. That is a matter of extreme regret. This debate, which joins both sides of the House today, should join both sides of politics around the nation in recognising the importance of the motion before the House. The Federal shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs commented recently on the 7.30 Report:
      There’s only one thing missing from this debate, and that’s the white sheets and the burning crosses - and that’s been the undercurrent in this debate.

That sort of comment is extremely regrettable and has no place in the important realisation by mainstream Australia of this totally incorrect policy of the past. All Australians should be sad about such excesses in the debate today. A far more important issue is what we do to right this wrong. Until the commission’s report is tabled and its recommendations are put on the public record, it is too early to speak in precise terms. The mover of the motion would understand that and may want to address the issue again at a later stage. But the words of the Governor-General in the inaugural Vincent Lingiari memorial lecture entitled "Some Signposts from Daguragu" should perhaps guide the Commonwealth in its response. Sir William Deane said:
      It should, I think, be apparent to all well-meaning people that true reconciliation between the Australian nation and its indigenous peoples is not achievable in the absence of acknowledgment by the nation of the wrongfulness of the past dispossession, oppression and degradation of the Aboriginal peoples.

He went on to say:
      That is not to say that independent Australians who had no part in what was done in the past should feel or acknowledge personal guilt. It is simply to assert our identity as a nation and the basic fact that national shame, as well as national pride, can and should exist in relation to past acts and omissions, at least when done or made in the name of the community or with the authority of government. Where there is no room for national pride or national shame about the past, there can be no national soul.

In conclusion, the coalition extends its sympathy to the Aboriginal community for the grief it has suffered as a result of this shameful policy of the past. The treatment afforded to Aboriginal Australians in decades past is something that neither side of politics could condone today. In the words of President Clinton, who recently apologised to African-American survivors of State-sponsored medical experimentation, "What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence." White people had no right to tear children from their mothers and families merely because they were black. Thankfully there were exceptions to many cases of exploitation, but the policy which made it possible in the first place was inherently wrong. Many of our original citizens feel a permanent and irredeemable sense of loss. Their childhood has been stripped away and their adolescence violated. The stolen generation should be recognised by every member of this Parliament and by every Australian.

Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [3.37 p.m.]: In 1995 the Commonwealth Attorney-General requested the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to inquire into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children from
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their families. The inquiry was conducted under the chairmanship of the president of the commission, Sir Ronald Wilson. The report was completed earlier this year and was given to the Federal Government in early April. It has yet to see the light of day. The Federal Government has been sitting on it, but there has been some movement in the last couple of days. The Federal Government has been making efforts, it appears, to discredit Sir Ronald, apparently to undermine the report and distance itself from it.

Through this action the Federal Government has exposed its lack of commitment. The Prime Minister in particular seems to have great difficulty facing up to reality and showing leadership in this most fundamental of issues. In trying to discredit Sir Ronald the faceless spokesperson for the Federal Government, described in the press as an unknown source, said they were concerned he was biased because he apologised recently on national television for running a church institution which accepted Aboriginal children removed from their families. One must wonder about the feeble minds and moral cowardice of the leaders of our country when they get up to such tricks. They sent out emissaries to besmirch the good name and reputation of Sir Ronald Wilson, a fine Australian. It is character assassination by proxy, but as everyone will soon learn, if they do not know it already, it is absolutely futile. The truth will out.

The Wilson report will shock many people and it is up to all of us to do something positive about it. That is what this motion is all about. The separation of Aboriginal children and babies began almost immediately after Europeans arrived here and continued until the 1970s. Every State government was involved in removing children and the Federal Government was also extensively involved. From the very early days of British settlement Aboriginal children were a source of labour to squatters and pastoralists and a target for the evangelising efforts of churches. At page 89 of his book Survival Nigel Parbury stated:
      During the pastoral invasion and frontier wars, Aboriginals had been regarded as black animals, the lowest race on earth. With the land now safe for pastoral enterprise, human feelings could be safely indulged and Aboriginals became part of the white man’s burden . . . With the development of theories of racial evolution, Aboriginals were elevated from the status of monkeys to children.
      An Aboriginal was like a child, said the Melbourne Argus in 1856, "as yet incapable of self control, innocent of the knowledge of good and evil and destitute alike of foresight and experience. Therefore he requires protection." Bishop Frodsham said that undoubtedly Aboriginals were the child people of the human race. In Western Australia, the Attorney General said they should be dealt with like naughty children - by whipping.
      This was why the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board wanted, in their own words, "control and custody of Aborigines of all ages and both sexes in a manner as a parent has the right to the control and custody of his children." White paternalism meant that the restrictions imposed on Aboriginals on and off the reserves were similar to those reserved in white society for criminals and the insane.

In 1981 Peter Read wrote a paper entitled "The Stolen Generations" for the New South Wales ministry of Aboriginal affairs. In a 1996 reprint of that paper he said:
      When I wrote The Stolen Generations in 1981, child separation was scarcely talked about. Non-Aborigines said that it couldn’t have happened. The victims of separation thought it was a shame job to talk about their removal. They believed that maybe their parents had not been able to care for them properly, or worse still, didn’t want them.
      Sixteen years later, thousands of children throughout Australia have spoken out against the pain they endured, and are still enduring. So have the parents, and extended families of the children.
      Whole communities have expressed what it meant to have their families traumatised and their future leadership removed and blown to the four winds. Now we can see the policy for what it was - an attempt to put an end to the Aboriginal people of Australia.
      As the National Inquiry showed in 1995/6, the hurt never goes away. But at least the non-Kooris concede that the policy happened, and that it was wrong.

The stolen generation inquiry exposed terrible abuse of children by foster parents, churches and government authorities. Today’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald states:
      Government policies have resulted in the destruction of families, of heartbreaking sorrows and pain, and of many generations of Aboriginal women and men who have been emotionally and psychologically shattered by their experiences.

The report is chock-full of evidence to support those assertions. Despite that, it seems that the Federal Government is laying the groundwork to distance itself from the report. It is practising the politics of denial and, in so doing, it is letting down the people of Australia. The final paragraph of the editorial states:
      There is an immediate need for the Federal Government to acknowledge this great stain on our national history. The issue of reparation is more complex than the provision of a monetary payment as compensation. That consideration can take place at a later date. The immediate need is for proper acknowledgment and apologies.

Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [3.42 p.m.]: As shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs I support this motion. There can be no question that the
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indigenous people of Australia have been treated abysmally by having their children taken away. That occurred for many years until the early 1960s. The report on stolen generations entitled "Bringing Them Home" will be released in the Federal Parliament next week. I am a little disappointed that Government members introduced an element of political one-upmanship in their speeches, because the people of New South Wales are united in their concern for indigenous Australians. There is no question in my mind that honourable members would support the early release of the report and appropriate recognition of the impact of totally unacceptable policies on indigenous people. An article on stolen identities in yesterday’s Australian stated:
      Millicent was four years old when she was taken away from her half-caste Aboriginal parents in 1949 and placed in Sister Kate’s home in Western Australia where she was kept as a ward of the State until she was 18.
      "They told me that my family didn’t care or want me and I had to forget them. They said it was very degrading to belong to an Aboriginal family and that I should be ashamed of myself, I was inferior to whitefellas," Millicent told the stolen generation’s inquiry.
      A "withdrawn and shy" girl, Millicent says she endured whippings with a "wet ironing cord" before being sent out to work as a domestic at a local farm. It proved no escape as she was raped by the "man of the house" and had her mouth washed out with soap when she told her story to the home matron, who sent her back to the farm.
      "The farmer and one of his workers raped me several times. I wanted to die, I wanted my mother to take me home where I would be safe and wanted," said Millicent, who subsequently fell pregnant and had her baby girl taken. The two have now been reunited.
      "All they contributed to our upbringing and future was an unrepairable scar of loneliness, mistrust, hatred and bitterness. Fears that have been with me all of life," she said. "The empty dark and lonely existence was so full of many hurtful and unforgivable events, that I cannot escape from no matter how hard I try."

That is one of the more dramatic stories told at the inquiry. The fact is that young persons taken from their families suffer many of the feelings referred to by Millicent, although they may not suffer at the hands of the people with whom they live. I have some personal knowledge of this. A foster indigenous or Aboriginal child lived with my wife’s family for many years in a loving and caring environment. But those were the policies of the time. Many of those who offered accommodation did not treat indigenous people in their care in the same way as Millicent’s people; they cared and tried to make a better life for indigenous people. The problem was that the perception of the European population about indigenous people was totally wrong.

The removal of children from families can impact in many ways. It can leave non-Aboriginal people wondering about their history. In my case, I understand that my great-grandmother was of Aboriginal descent. The problem is that people cannot backtrack to a certain point because Aboriginal people were not given birth certificates. Until fairly recently they were treated as nonentities. In some cases people tried to do the right thing by Aboriginal people but in so doing destroyed their family connections and the loving relationship they needed as they grew up. In other cases people were intent on what can only be described as cultural genocide, which was referred to earlier in debate. Cultural genocide of many indigenous populations has been undertaken. Indeed, in 1948 the United Nations recognised that. The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide included in its definition of genocide "forcibly transferring children of [a national, ethnic, racial or religious] group to another group" and "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the group as such".

In a 1947 memorandum the United Nations Secretariat noted that the forcible removal of children from their parents results in forcing upon the former at an impressionable and receptive age a culture and mentality different from that of their parents. This process tends to bring about the disappearance of the group as a cultural unit in a relatively short time. There is no question that that was high on the agenda of many people on the Aboriginal Welfare Board in the 1920s and 1930s. As we look to the future we should be able to say that cultural genocide was an awful mistake that was carried out by well-intentioned people or those with poor intentions. Whatever the situation was, the only way forward is for this generation of Australians to recognise that it must apologise to those who have suffered, whether they be black or white. Such an apology would enable them to get on with their lives. The Opposition strongly supports the call by the honourable member for Keira for the report to be released so that the truth of what occurred to the indigenous people of Australia can be discussed fully in the community. [Time expired.]

Mr WATKINS (Gladesville) [3.47 p.m.]: I welcome this debate in the New South Wales Parliament, and admit to a level of anger over the issue. The first cause of that anger is that until recently I did not know what was happening in my own country. And I say "happening" because the impact of the policies that caused and supported the
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stealing of children remains with us today in a thousand ways in the lives of tens of thousands of people across this nation. It is not an issue of the past that can be neatly turned away from, as if that could ever be an excuse. The passage of years has never been a reason to deny past injustices as unimportant. Our legal system and political framework have always looked into the past and attempted to right wrongs. The inquiries into and compensation paid to victims of some religious institutions, the recent World War II war crimes trials more than 50 years after the event and the Chelmsford case all show that the passage of years does not diminish wrong or responsibility for evils done.

The stealing of Aboriginal children continued in New South Wales up until 1969, when I was 14 years old. When I was sitting in history classes, supposedly learning about the history of this nation and our membership of a community of nations that believed in and fought for justice and equality, my nation and my State were deeply involved in a tragic, discriminatory practice designed to rid Australia of a separate and identifiable Aboriginal race and culture. Use of the term "genocide" is thought by some to be overstatement, but the depressing evidence is there to prove it. Peter Read, an historian from the Australian National University who has been central to the work of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, wrote in his paper The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969:
      Genocide does not simply mean the extermination of people by violence but may include any means at all. At the height of the policy of separating Aboriginal people from their parents the Aborigines Welfare Board meant to do just that. The 1921 Report of the Board stated that "the continuation of this policy of dissociating the children from camp life must eventually solve the Aboriginal problem".

I feel angry today over the continuing denial that this horrific policy was in place, that it had terrible consequences and that we have any responsibility to try to redress the great harm that was done. In New South Wales between 1883 and 1969 almost 6,000 indigenous children were kidnapped from their parents and guardians, many never to see their families or homelands again. One in six Aboriginal children have been taken from their families this century. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Dr Andrew Refshauge, has said of the policy:
      The denial of one’s parents, identity and culture is the ultimate act of inhumanity and injustice.

He has also said:
      The reverberation of the horrendous act of breaking up families is still being felt by many thousands of Aboriginal families in New South Wales.

I cannot but imagine what the outcry would be, what resources would be set aside and how stridently the calls for justice would ring out if the children were taken from white homes - if they were our children. In an analysis in the Sydney Morning Herald of 21 May Tony Wright made an impassioned and thoughtful call for justice. He concluded his article by saying:
      Just for a moment, perhaps the decision-makers should forget these were stolen Aboriginal children. They were simply children, and they were stolen . . . by the nation that was supposed to care for them and their families.

The deepest cause of my anger is that the Federal Government, which is charged with protecting the weak and needy and standing for justice, can reject out of hand the main recommendations of this inquiry. Our parliaments in this nation should have known better a century ago. Some individuals did, but the majority of our parliaments, to their eternal condemnation, allowed the brutality to continue. In 1997 the Federal Government has a sacred responsibility to try to right the wrongs, to acknowledge the past reality and to provide a future in which justice for the stolen generations is possible. Tragically, its response so far has filled me with shame.

The report of the national inquiry is a critical step in the growth of this nation. How we deal with it will say much about what we are and what we can become. The challenge is there for us as a nation. I pray that we do not fail in that challenge. The key recommendations of the national inquiry were for acknowledgment and apology, commemoration by an annual "Sorry Day", a genocide convention, return assistance, national compensation for those removed by "compulsion, duress or undue influence" and funding for family reunion.

Mr MARKHAM (Keira) [3.52 p.m.], in reply: I thank the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Rockdale, the honourable member for Wakehurst and the honourable member for Gladesville for their contributions to this debate. It is obvious that members of this Parliament have a real understanding of what has happened and what past governments did in the stealing of Aboriginal children from their families. It was more than a matter of stealing kids; it was a brutal removal of children and a total decimation of the families they were stolen from. The book Survival - A History of Aboriginal Life in New South Wales records that Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, a former Governor of
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South Australia, remembered the day his sister was taken from Cummeroogunga reserve on the Murray River. Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls said:
      The police came without warning except for the precaution of ensuring that the men had been sent over the sandhills to cut timber.

What gutless wonders they were! They sent the men away before they went to take the kids from the mothers. Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls continued:
      Some of the girls eluded the police by swimming the Murray. Others were forced into the cars with mothers wailing.

That statement in no small way sums up the anguish of Aboriginal parents and their families for many generations. The introduction of the book The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969 by Peter Read states in part:
      White people have never been able to leave Aborigines alone. Children particularly have suffered. Missionaries, teachers, government officials, have believed that the best way to make black people behave like white was to get hold of the children who had not yet learned Aboriginal lifeways. They thought that children’s minds were like a kind of blackboard on which the European secrets could be written.

If that is not an attempt at genocide of one of the oldest races on earth I do not know what is. It is something that absolutely shocks me. Honourable members would be aware that in the past eight years, as shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs and later as Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs, I have travelled extensively, have spoken to many people and have visited many Aboriginal communities. I hear the same stories of dread and absolute mayhem that occurred when the police arrived at Aboriginal missions because mission managers believed that Aboriginal people needed to be treated like children and that the best way to treat children who were misbehaving was to punish them.

Taking children away from their families, trying to deny them their cultural identity, denying the very fact that they were Aborigines is something for which this country should hang its head in shame. The Federal Government should be condemned for the elitist statements it has made this week about the report without actually tabling it. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week a major conference is to be held in Melbourne. The National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation is hosting the conference. I wonder how Aboriginal people at that conference will feel, knowing that the Federal Government has condemned the very person who put together this report for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. How will they feel when in the first instance there has not been a real effort made by the Federal Government to release the report and, worse still, when the Federal Government has leaked parts of the report?

We talk about reconciliation, but how can there be reconciliation when we are not honest? How can there be reconciliation when governments of this country - and in particular the Prime Minister of this country - are not honest enough to have the guts to admit what has happened and to say that they understand what has happened? It is important that the report be released before the conference hosted by the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation is held. People should know exactly what is in the report before the national convention speaks on many issues concerning reconciliation.

Motion agreed to.