On 26 May 1997 the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament.
It was a moment that changed our nation forever;
A moment that brought the voices of the Stolen Generation to the most powerful place in Australia;
A moment that demanded our nation be held accountable for the horrors of government policies that forcibly separated First Nations children from their families and communities;
A moment that called on each of us to stop, listen, and to act.
As we know, it took another ten years for the Australian Parliament to respond to that call, with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offering a National Apology on 13 February 2008.
However, on 18 June 1997, mere weeks after the release of the Bringing them Home Report, former Premier Bob Carr issued an unreserved apology on behalf of the people of NSW to the Stolen Generations, the first State Government to do so.
The Premier’s motion of unreserved apology was a powerful act of recognition, regret and reconciliation.
We mark that historic apology here today.
The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families found that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.
Not one Indigenous family had escaped the effects of removal, with most families affected over multiple generations.
The Inquiry found that Indigenous children removed from their families were discouraged from contacting their families or communities and were taught to reject their Aboriginality.
The institutions housing children were rudimentary and harsh. Education was basic. Children who were forced to work and excessive punishments were common.
1 in 5 who were fostered and 1 in 10 who were institutionalised reported being sexually abused.
Removed children were twice as likely to have been arrested more than once and three times more likely to have been incarcerated.
It is hard to read these findings and to understand how Australian political leaders could NOT have apologised.
However, if saying sorry means not doing it again, we have to really ask ourselves: How far have we come and what did those words mean?
The 2021 Family Matters Report reveals that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be removed from their families at alarming rates.
On 30 June 2021, there were 21,523 indigenous children in out of home care.
Indigenous children are 10 times more likely to be in out of home care than non-Indigenous children.
Every child deserves to be safe and to thrive in their homes.
And as a community, we have a shared responsibility to protect the most vulnerable amongst us from harm.
But the data reveals a terrible truth: We have a long way to go before the words of apology issued in this Chamber in 1997 and in the Australian House of Representatives in 2008 have effect and meaning.
Sorry has to mean not doing it again.
We have a new opportunity to walk together towards reconciliation and respect and to show that the act of apology is just the beginning.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is described as an invitation from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to “walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”
It represents an overwhelming consensus of First Nations people calling for a Voice to Parliament and the establishment of a Makarrata Commision; the Statement is a call for Voice. Treaty. Truth, a clear pathway to self-determination that accords with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Statement calls for the Australian people to enshrine a First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution, enabling First Nations people to provide advice to parliament on issues, policies and projects that impact their lives.
With the election of an Albanese Labor Government, we have a renewed opportunity to deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.
There is a sense of optimism and hope that we can turn a new chapter and realise the full potential of reconciliation through truth-telling, justice and self-determination.
I humbly thank the extraordinary First Nations people who told their stories from the floor this Parliament.
I also thank the NSW Government for taking the time to mark the historic apology issued by Bob Carr back in 1997.
As we consider the weight and importance of those words from a quarter of a century ago, let us not forget that their resonance comes from taking action to eliminate discrimination against First Nations people, whether it be in our schools, health system, in child protection or our criminal justice system.
The resonance of the apology made here in 1997 comes from recommitting to justice and reconciliation and to lending our weight as a Parliament to delivering Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.