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Kevin Rudd Apology Speech Essay Format

White Australia's responsibility, like its shame, is monstrous.—The Sydney Morning Herald [34]

Kevin Rudd’s apology

Watch the main excerpt of Kevin Rudd’s speech in parliament on February 13th, 2008.

Apology Transcript ▿

The Speaker of the House (Hon Harry Jenkins MP): The Clerk.

The Clerk: Government business notice number 1, Motion offering an apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

The Speaker: Prime Minister.

Prime Minister (Hon Kevin Rudd MP): Mr Speaker, I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.


Kevin’s inside story of the apology

In an exclusive interview with the Koori Mail newspaper Kevin Rudd explained how he managed to get the apology through parliament [39].

“I thought ‘how would you get something like this through the Parliament, on a bipartisan basis, so that the [Opposition] owned it’ because, as history has proven, I wasn’t going to be around forever.”

“Given where [the Opposition] were at the time—and remember that a number of them didn’t come in the end—I had to abe very mindful of how much they would bear without turning their backs.

“You heard the remarks made on the day, which reflected all the internal tensions on the conservative side of politics and their attitude towards Indigenous people.

“But I was waiting for the one thing from the leader of the Opposition and that was ‘The Opposition supports this motion’.

“That’s all I was looking for [so] I grabbed [Federal Opposition leader Dr] Brendan [Nelson] by the hand and led him around the chamber to meet all of the Aboriginal Elders and all of those sort of folk.

“I picked up the coolamon from Stolen Generations member Aunty Elaine Peeters and, it wasn’t scripted, but I said to Brendan, ‘Oi, Sunshine, you’re coming with me and we’re presenting this together to the Speaker’. I deliberately hijacked him.”

Mr Rudd said he “played by instinct” all the way through the occasion and chose not to react to “all of the negative things” Dr Nelson said in his reply speech, but resisted.

“I did that because I wanted to entrench it in the heart and soul of the Parliament so that these things were not changeable, fundamentally, in the future,” Mr Rudd said.

Sorry Day in the print media

Below are the headlines of newspapers across Australia about Sorry Day, 13 February 2008. Most of them feature the famous word ‘Sorry’ in their headlines, a word many Aboriginal people came to Canberra to hear on that historic day.

Canberra Times (ACT) as many others showed a prominent ‘sorry’.

Courier Mail (Brisbane, QLD) printed an historic image of Aboriginal children on a truck with a white nurse.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW) showed Kevin Rudd with Aboriginal people who performed a Welcome to Country as parliament resumed operations.

Herald Sun (Melbourne, VIC) gave more prominence to a TV station’s legal struggle and, inside, to opponents of the apology.

Illawara Mercury (NSW) had the most memorable front page with an image of Aboriginal boys shown in an Aboriginal flag.

Mercury (Hobart, TAS) was text-heavy because it printed the text of the full apology.

MX (Sydney metro) showed a shot of crowds watching the apology being made on big outdoor screens.

Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW) elaborated more on what ‘sorry’ meant and showed Kevin Rudd with an Aboriginal woman.

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) also prominently placed ‘sorry’ along with an image of a ‘domestic slave’.

The Age (Melbourne, VIC) was the only newspaper not to mention ‘sorry’ in its main headline.

The Australian (national) featured Aboriginal singer and songwriter Archie Roach who was stolen from his parents.

The Koori Mail, a national Aboriginal-owned newspaper, focussed on the thoughts of members of the Stolen Generations.

Poll results

I reproduce some ‘sorry’ apology poll results in this section. When you read or use these statistics be careful how you interpret them and remember:

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.—Aaron Levenstein, associate professor of business administration, Baruch College, New York

Pre-apology polls (1997)

The following set of three polls is cited wildly throughout ‘sorry’ apology articles, but few mention the second question of the Morgan poll which reveals an interesting result.

Should the government
say ‘sorry’?asked in 1997

AGB McNair (2,065 votes)


Newspoll (1,200 votes)


Morgan (522 votes)


Source: http://www.news.com.au

[What is your opinion on] whether or not there should be a federal government apology?522 votes

Apologise even if it makes it easier to claim compensation
Apologise only if it does not make it easier to claim compensation
Not apologise because it is enough [sic] individual politicians to apologise
Not apologise because the policy was legal and well meaning at the time

Morgan poll as above; source: http://www.apo.org.au

The 1997 apology polls were conducted before the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in government and show mixed results.

One reason might be because they had varying numbers of respondents. The McNair poll had almost four times as many people voting as the Morgan poll. In polling, as with every work based on statistics, you need a certain number of answers to reach a statistically representative amount of data.

The other problem lies in the question of the polls which varied greatly between polls.

The McNair poll informed readers about the HREOC submission and asked if “all Australian parliaments acknowledge the responsibility” for “the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families”.

The Newspoll asked simply whether the government should apologise to the Aboriginal people because of “the events revealed.”

The Morgan poll explained at length that the then Prime Minster John Howard had decided against giving an apology and that the government was not responsible “for errors, wrongs and misdeeds of earlier generations”.

Interestingly, the Morgan poll had a second question immediately after this one, asking “whether or not there should be a federal government apology”, not mentioning the Prime Minster at all and providing four instead of just two possible answers.

In that question the results are turned upside down. 50% agree that an apology should be made while 47% disagree. This is a good example how a different question can, in the same poll, skew the responses.

How much will an apology to the Stolen Generations help towards achieving Aboriginal
reconciliation?6,735 votes

Very much
Not very much
Not at all

Source: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au, October 2007

The The Australian poll is interesting as it also offers four questions for respondents to scale their opinion. The large number of votes helps achieve a statistically significant cross-section.

The poll shows again that the Australian nation was still divided in half. 48% thought that an apology helped very much or moderately while 52% thought the apology did not help very much or not at all.

These results are roughly consistent with the other polls we’ve discussed so far.

Post-apology polls (2008)

After Kevin Rudd had made his historic ‘sorry’ apology many Australians shifted their opinion and voted differently in polls.

Rate Kevin Rudd’s
apology34,967 votes

Don’t agree with it

Source: smh.com.au, February 2008

How do you rate Kevin Rudd’s
‘sorry’?721 votes

Don’t agree with it

Source: canberratimes.com.au, February 2008

The Sydney Morning Herald poll is the most significant of these two because the sheer amount of votes makes it almost representative.

78% of the respondents thought that Kevin Rudd’s ‘sorry’ apology was excellent or good. Only 6% disapproved of the apology while 16% disagreed with it.

The Canberra Times poll with well below 1,000 votes is far less significant but confirms a strong shift towards support of the apology.

The fairly high percentage of disagreeing respondents might be due to the paper’s ‘left wing thinking’ readership who are possibly more in favour of the Liberal party which, for 11 years, opposed an apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations.

Responses to the apology

I encourage you to make up your own mind about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s ‘sorry’ apology. The following quotes give you food for thought. I have separated them into Indigenous and non-Indigenous so you can easily find trends and common thoughts.

Aboriginal responses

I feel great. I'm on top of the world, I'm floating on air. It's a big weight off my shoulders… It's the closure I need.—Archie Roach, 52, Aboriginal singer and songwriter and member of the Stolen Generations [1]

The apology will help to heal the scars but it will never heal my pain and hurt.—Mary Farrell-Hooker, 50, member of the Stolen Generations [3]

I fully welcome the apology to the Stolen Generation as a lot of people will now know what took place.—Alec Kruger, 83, member of the Stolen Generations [3]

I'm really encouraged and buoyed by the chance that has been taken here to really open the door to the process of healing.—Dr Alex Brown, Aboriginal doctor [8]

The word 'sorry' doesn't come near what [my father] went through. They can apologise in a thousand different ways without saying sorry. Actions speak louder than words.—Norman Stewart, son of a Stolen Generations member [10]

To me, our Prime Minister's apology is saying to my granny and the thousands like her, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, that we understand your pain and we acknowledge this long-ignored chapter in our history.—Che Cockatoo-Collins, head of the Indigenous Sports Academy, Port Adelaide [11]

I am inspired by this apology as an act of true reconciliation towards Indigenous Australia.—Mick Dodson, co-chairman of Reconciliation Australia [12]

Kevin Rudd's eloquent and culturally sensitive words undoubtedly facilitated the lifting of the heavy emotional load from the frail shoulders of those beautiful, resilient Stolen Generations victims.—Stephen Hagan, Aboriginal academic [43]


Sorry for the lies you told For the children you stole Hearts that don't bleed Hearts so cold. Came to this land With guns in hand An ancient culture You wish to disband. Taken our rights By days and by nights Killing our people And not hearing our plights. Now it's the future And someone has spoken Time to move on And to heal the broken.

Poem by Kamilaroi man Neville James Draper [41] who was born on 13 February. Read more Aboriginal poetry.

It is a very emotional time and I'm so pleased that he has said sorry.—Muriel Bablett, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care Agency [12]

Sorry may just be a word, but it should help the history of our past come back into our curriculum for the current generation to learn… An apology will mean a monumental weight has been lifted from people's shoulders.—Sudye Jackson, retired Aboriginal footballer [14]

[It's] an apology not just for me, but for my mother and for my father and for my children who carry the burden and carry the weight of what happened to us stolen kids.—Archie Roach, Aboriginal singer and song-writer [15]

The wording of Mr Rudd's apology goes a long, long way to end the distrust of the white man by generations of my people.—Lloyd McDermott, member of the NSW Bar Association [17]

No matter what our colour or our creed, at heart, from this day forward, we are all fundamentally Australian.—Noel Tovey, Aboriginal dancer and member of the Stolen Generations [18]

Australians of goodwill will be hoping that the apology on this day will be a real beginning for the brown-skin baby's spiritual journey home.—Kirstie Parker, editor, Koori Mail [20]

In my heart I feel there is a real need for [the apology]... For my family, it allows some kind of healing and forgiveness to take place where there is less anger and bitterness in the hearts of people.—Cathy Freeman, Aboriginal athlete [21]

An apology will mean that people believe us, that this has happened and that we are not liars.—Cahill McCarthy, Stolen Generation member [22]

See, [the apology] was like a great weight dropped away and we can go on in a positive aspect together and get out of the kindergarten stage we've been in for too flamin' long.—Kev Carmody, Aboriginal singer and songwriter [27]

For the first time in my sister's life she wept in front of the TV while she was watching Kevin say sorry. All these years she and I had held the pain.—Aunty Rhonda Collard, Aboriginal artist [32]

Blackfellas will get the words, the whitefellas will keep the money.—Noel Pearson, Aboriginal elder [27]

Nobody else in the country wanted to touch the apology but Kevin Rudd, when he was Prime Minister, decided to step up and to lead by example. It wasn't just a brave thing, it was the right thing.—Archie Roach, Aboriginal singer and songwriter [38]

It was never about guilt. It's history. The truth is the truth.—Neil Barney, Melbourne [44]

It's been absolute closure. I was taken when I was 10… This apology was something I really needed to hear.—Murray Harrison, Ballarat [44]

There has always been this hole in my heart with regards to being Australian. And today the speech by the Prime Minister was just so spot-on that it filled that little hole.—Warren Mundine, Aboriginal leader and the former National President of the Australian Labor Party [44]

I can remember feeling a wave of emotion that completely engulfed me, because he had cut to the core about the truth of our nation.—Helen Moran, Aboriginal co-chair, National Sorry Day Committee [44]

It's not doing anything for me, it wont' give back my years.—Rhonda Maynard, East Davenport, Tasmania [44]

Australia Day 2008. The ‘Sorry’ writing was commissioned by a private person. As if he had already known what Prime Minster Kevin Rudd would say three weeks later. Photo: Michael Davies, Flickr

Non-Indigenous responses

The overwhelming majority of non-Indigenous Australians received the apology to the Stolen Generations positively. A minority did not agree with the apology or even denied that the Stolen Generations exist.

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the words 'I am sorry' a wave of emotion and a process of healing began across the nation.—Brett Solomon, executive director of community advocacy organisation GetUp [28]

The whole sorry thing is really to satisfy the white population, not the black population. Until whites give back to black their nationhood, they can never claim their own, no matter how many flags they fly.—John Pilger, expat Australian journalist [19]

The PM's apology expresses my concern, empathy and desire that this will begin some psychological and spiritual healing.—Joanne Gardiner, General Practitioner [6]

I was very encouraged to hear on the news about the apology [Mr Rudd] made in parliament to all Aborigines for laws and policies that 'inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss' upon them.—Dalai Lama [2]

If someone can prove to me that there were stolen generations, I could change my mind… The children in most cases were given up by parents or guardians who were unable to look after them.—Barbara Witte [9]

Now I realise that [the apology] is not about black people or white people, it's really about families.—Man talking to Gary Highland (National Director,

It was a mistake for us not to apologise to Aboriginal people.—Tony Abbott, opposition spokesperson on Indigenous Affairs, about the Howard government [36]

Now I believe that the colour bar which I intuitively feel still operates and works against us, will start to fade away.—Deborah Ruiz Wall (of Filipino-Australian descent), Newtown, Sydney [42]

We have stopped telling ourselves the comfortable lie.—Clover Moore, Lord Mayor, Sydney [44]

Kevin Rudd’s apology and Australian schools

Poster showing the word ‘sorry’ translated into a range of Aboriginal languages. The poster is part of a set created to mark the historic national apology by the NT-based Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. It offers the posters for sale. Source: batchelorpress.com

In NSW, government schools were told to fly the Aboriginal flag and stop lessons during the apology so that students could watch the apology live on television. Many parents were upset about this.

Should students stop classes to watch Kevin Rudd’s apology on TV?1,771 votes


Source: The Daily Telegraph, 13 February 2008

A majority of over 70% agreed that students should not swap classes with the apology.

The parent’s reaction reminds us of parents in 1883 which also threatened to withdraw their children from school if 15 Aboriginal students would not leave. In those times the Aboriginal children were ordered out of school.

Let the brainwashing begin… This is school, not a politburo meeting. The Education Department and teachers are there to teach children how to think, not what to think. I consider pulling any child of mine out of school for the day.—Damien Holland, newspaper reader [4]

This is a disgrace. There are plenty of people out there who do not agree with the apology, who have kids going to public schools… Mr Rudd does not speak for me, my children or my ancestors.—Nicky, newspaper reader [4]

If my kids' school does this, they're staying home! I'm disgusted!—Tony, newspaper reader [5]

It's not enough that students simply know of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's sorry to these 'generations' of 'stolen' children no one can actually find. To children we actually saved.—Andrew Bolt, editor Herald Sun [7]

Schoolchildren will be watching history, and I wish I was still at school to witness such an occasion with fellow new-generation Australians.—Peter Ellis, newspaper reader [4]

Get that nigger band off.—School teacher responding to an Aboriginal student wearing a coloured wrist band [24]

The white people’s concerns are starkly opposed by the response of a young Aboriginal boy who, until the apology, was a “quiet, almost sullen, boy who kept to himself” because Aboriginal people were often criticised for no reason [24].

Watching the apology on television transformed the boy. He is now proud of his Nyoongar heritage, started to learn to play the didgeridoo and lead the music on the day of the school celebrations.

Apologies made in other countries

New Zealand

New Zealand apologised in 1995 to a Maori tribe for stealing 500,000 hectares of land 130 years earlier. That apology became law [13].


Canada apologised On 11 June 2008, to its Indigenous peoples for its past actions that eroded “the political, economic and social systems of Aboriginal people and nations”. The government acted on a report which had been tabled two years earlier.

From the 19th century until the 1970s—dates very similar to Australia’s own history—more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were required to attend state-funded schools in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian society [40] and the purpose of “killing the indian in the child” [33]. They were forbidden from speaking their native languages or participating in cultural practices.

There were an estimated 130 Residential Schools across Canada. An estimated 90,000 survivors fight to have their stories recorded.

The last Residential School closed in 1996.

In May 2006 the Canadian government reached a CDN$1.9-billion settlement to compensate survivors.

We Were Children (directed by Tim Wolochatiuk, 2011, 83 min) chronicles the profound impact of the Canadian government’s residential school system through the eyes of two children who were forced to face hardships beyond their years. As young children, Lyna and Glen were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools, where they suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the effects of which persist in their adult lives.


President Tsai Ing-wen formally apologised to Taiwan’s indigenous people on 1 August 2016 for centuries of suffering and unfair treatment, becoming the island’s first-ever leader to do so. [45]

Tsai, Taiwan’s only leader with aboriginal blood, said she’ll personally head a committee to investigate past injustices as part of government efforts to ease tensions with the native community.

Taiwan’s indigenous community comprises 16 recognised tribes that make up about 2% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people.

I apologise to the indigenous people on behalf of the Government, to give our deepest apology over the suffering and injustice you endured over the past 400 years.—Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen [45]

Apology resources

Documentary The Apology

Reconciliation Australia has released a special documentary “to remind and refresh Australians about how it feels to heal and to see things can be better between us.”

The documentary, titled The Apology, is narrated by Jack Thompson with music from Powderfinger, Silverchair, Missy Higgins, John Butler and the Stiff Gins. It features behind-the-scenes footage from the two days leading up to the apology, and the event itself. The Apology runs for 30 minutes.

You can order a free copy at www.reconciliation.org.au/.

More resources at AIATSIS

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has a long list of resources about the apology along with videos and links to news articles.

“Stand Together”

Australian songwriter Paul Bonner Jones wrote Stand Together.

I move:

That today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future.

Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.

That is why the parliament is today here assembled: to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nations soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.

Last year I made a commitment to the Australian people that if we formed the next government of the Commonwealth we would in parliament say sorry to the stolen generations.

Today I honour that commitment.

I said we would do so early in the life of the new parliament.

Again, today I honour that commitment by doing so at the commencement of this the 42nd parliament of the Commonwealth.

Because the time has come, well and truly come, for all peoples of our great country, for all citizens of our great commonwealth, for all Australians - those who are indigenous and those who are not - to come together to reconcile and together build a new future for our nation.

Some have asked, Why apologise?

Let me begin to answer by telling the parliament just a little of one person's story - an elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman in her 80s, full of life, full of funny stories, despite what has happened in her life's journey, a woman who has travelled a long way to be with us today, a member of the stolen generation who shared some of her story with me when I called around to see her just a few days ago.

Nanna Nungala Fejo, as she prefers to be called, was born in the late 1920s.

She remembers her earliest childhood days living with her family and her community in a bush camp just outside Tennant Creek.

She remembers the love and the warmth and the kinship of those days long ago, including traditional dancing around the camp fire at night.

She loved the dancing. She remembers once getting into strife when, as a four-year-old girl, she insisted on dancing with the male tribal elders rather than just sitting and watching the men, as the girls were supposed to do.

But then, sometime around 1932, when she was about four, she remembers the coming of the welfare men.

Her family had feared that day and had dug holes in the creek bank where the children could run and hide.

What they had not expected was that the white welfare men did not come alone. They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman on horseback cracking his stockwhip.

The kids were found; they ran for their mothers, screaming, but they could not get away. They were herded and piled onto the back of the truck. Tears flowing, her mum tried clinging to the sides of the truck as her children were taken away to the Bungalow in Alice, all in the name of protection.

A few years later, government policy changed. Now the children would be handed over to the missions to be cared for by the churches. But which church would care for them?

The kids were simply told to line up in three lines. Nanna Fejo and her sister stood in the middle line, her older brother and cousin on her left. Those on the left were told that they had become Catholics, those in the middle Methodists and those on the right Church of England.

That is how the complex questions of post-reformation theology were resolved in the Australian outback in the 1930s. It was as crude as that.

She and her sister were sent to a Methodist mission on Goulburn Island and then Croker Island. Her Catholic brother was sent to work at a cattle station and her cousin to a Catholic mission.

Nanna Fejo's family had been broken up for a second time. She stayed at the mission until after the war, when she was allowed to leave for a prearranged job as a domestic in Darwin. She was 16. Nanna Fejo never saw her mum again.

After she left the mission, her brother let her know that her mum had died years before, a broken woman fretting for the children that had literally been ripped away from her.

I asked Nanna Fejo what she would have me say today about her story. She thought for a few moments then said that what I should say today was that all mothers are important. And she added: Families - keeping them together is very important. It's a good thing that you are surrounded by love and that love is passed down the generations. That's what gives you happiness.

As I left, later on, Nanna Fejo took one of my staff aside, wanting to make sure that I was not too hard on the Aboriginal stockman who had hunted those kids down all those years ago.

The stockman had found her again decades later, this time himself to say, Sorry. And remarkably, extraordinarily, she had forgiven him.

Nanna Fejo's is just one story.

There are thousands, tens of thousands of them: stories of forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their mums and dads over the better part of a century.

Some of these stories are graphically told in Bringing them home, the report commissioned in 1995 by Prime Minister Keating and received in 1997 by Prime Minister Howard.

There is something terribly primal about these firsthand accounts. The pain is searing; it screams from the pages. The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.

These stories cry out to be heard; they cry out for an apology.

Instead, from the nation's parliament there has been a stony, stubborn and deafening silence for more than a decade; a view that somehow we, the parliament, should suspend our most basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong; a view that, instead, we should look for any pretext to push this great wrong to one side, to leave it languishing with the historians, the academics and the cultural warriors, as if the stolen generations are little more than an interesting sociological phenomenon.

But the stolen generations are not intellectual curiosities. They are human beings, human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of parliaments and governments. But, as of today, the time for denial, the time for delay, has at last come to an end.

The nation is demanding of its political leadership to take us forward.

Decency, human decency, universal human decency, demands that the nation now step forward to right an historical wrong. That is what we are doing in this place today.

But should there still be doubts as to why we must now act, let the parliament reflect for a moment on the following facts: that, between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of indigenous children were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers; that, as a result, up to 50,000 children were forcibly taken from their families; that this was the product of the deliberate, calculated policies of the state as reflected in the explicit powers given to them under statute; that this policy was taken to such extremes by some in administrative authority that the forced extractions of children of so-called mixed lineage were seen as part of a broader policy of dealing with the problem of the Aboriginal population.

One of the most notorious examples of this approach was from the Northern Territory Protector of Natives, who stated:

"Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes" - to quote the protector - "will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white."

The Western Australian Protector of Natives expressed not dissimilar views, expounding them at length in Canberra in 1937 at the first national conference on indigenous affairs that brought together the Commonwealth and state protectors of natives.

These are uncomfortable things to be brought out into the light. They are not pleasant. They are profoundly disturbing.

But we must acknowledge these facts if we are to deal once and for all with the argument that the policy of generic forced separation was somehow well motivated, justified by its historical context and, as a result, unworthy of any apology today.

Then we come to the argument of intergenerational responsibility, also used by some to argue against giving an apology today.

But let us remember the fact that the forced removal of Aboriginal children was happening as late as the early 1970s.

The 1970s is not exactly a point in remote antiquity. There are still serving members of this parliament who were first elected to this place in the early 1970s.

It is well within the adult memory span of many of us.

The uncomfortable truth for us all is that the parliaments of the nation, individually and collectively, enacted statutes and delegated authority under those statutes that made the forced removal of children on racial grounds fully lawful.

There is a further reason for an apology as well: it is that reconciliation is in fact an expression of a core value of our nation - and that value is a fair go for all.

There is a deep and abiding belief in the Australian community that, for the stolen generations, there was no fair go at all.

There is a pretty basic Aussie belief that says that it is time to put right this most outrageous of wrongs.

It is for these reasons, quite apart from concerns of fundamental human decency, that the governments and parliaments of this nation must make this apology - because, put simply, the laws that our parliaments enacted made the stolen generations possible.

We, the parliaments of the nation, are ultimately responsible, not those who gave effect to our laws. And the problem lay with the laws themselves.

As has been said of settler societies elsewhere, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors; therefore we must also be the bearer of their burdens as well.

Therefore, for our nation, the course of action is clear: that is, to deal now with what has become one of the darkest chapters in Australia's history.

In doing so, we are doing more than contending with the facts, the evidence and the often rancorous public debate.

In doing so, we are also wrestling with our own soul.

This is not, as some would argue, a black-armband view of history; it is just the truth: the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth - facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it.

Until we fully confront that truth, there will always be a shadow hanging over us and our future as a fully united and fully reconciled people.

It is time to reconcile. It is time to recognise the injustices of the past. It is time to say sorry. It is time to move forward together.

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry.

On behalf of the government of Australia, I am sorry.

On behalf of the parliament of Australia, I am sorry.

I offer you this apology without qualification.

We apologise for the hurt, the pain and suffering that we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that previous parliaments have enacted.

We apologise for the indignity, the degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied.

We offer this apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of successive governments under successive parliaments.

In making this apology, I would also like to speak personally to the members of the stolen generations and their families: to those here today, so many of you; to those listening across the nation - from Yuendumu, in the central west of the Northern Territory, to Yabara, in North Queensland, and to Pitjantjatjara in South Australia.

I know that, in offering this apology on behalf of the government and the parliament, there is nothing I can say today that can take away the pain you have suffered personally.

Whatever words I speak today, I cannot undo that.

Words alone are not that powerful; grief is a very personal thing.

I ask those non-indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully understand why what we are doing is so important to imagine for a moment that this had happened to you.

I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive.

My proposal is this: if the apology we extend today is accepted in the spirit of reconciliation, in which it is offered, we can today resolve together that there be a new beginning for Australia.

And it is to such a new beginning that I believe the nation is now calling us.

Australians are a passionate lot. We are also a very practical lot.

For us, symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.

It is not sentiment that makes history; it is our actions that make history.

Today's apology, however inadequate, is aimed at righting past wrongs.

It is also aimed at building a bridge between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - a bridge based on a real respect rather than a thinly veiled contempt.

Our challenge for the future is to cross that bridge and, in so doing, to embrace a new partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians - to embrace, as part of that partnership, expanded Link-up and other critical services to help the stolen generations to trace their families if at all possible and to provide dignity to their lives.

But the core of this partnership for the future is to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians on life expectancy, educational achievement and employment opportunities.

This new partnership on closing the gap will set concrete targets for the future: within a decade to halve the widening gap in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities for indigenous Australians, within a decade to halve the appalling gap in infant mortality rates between indigenous and non-indigenous children and, within a generation, to close the equally appalling 17-year life gap between indigenous and non-indigenous in overall life expectancy.

The truth is: a business as usual approach towards indigenous Australians is not working.

Most old approaches are not working.

We need a new beginning, a new beginning which contains real measures of policy success or policy failure; a new beginning, a new partnership, on closing the gap with sufficient flexibility not to insist on a one-size-fits-all approach for each of the hundreds of remote and regional indigenous communities across the country but instead allowing flexible, tailored, local approaches to achieve commonly-agreed national objectives that lie at the core of our proposed new partnership; a new beginning that draws intelligently on the experiences of new policy settings across the nation.

However, unless we as a parliament set a destination for the nation, we have no clear point to guide our policy, our programs or our purpose; we have no centralised organising principle.

Let us resolve today to begin with the little children, a fitting place to start on this day of apology for the stolen generations.

Let us resolve over the next five years to have every indigenous four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal community enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper preliteracy and prenumeracy programs.

Let us resolve to build new educational opportunities for these little ones, year by year, step by step, following the completion of their crucial preschool year.

Let us resolve to use this systematic approach to build future educational opportunities for indigenous children to provide proper primary and preventive health care for the same children, to begin the task of rolling back the obscenity that we find today in infant mortality rates in remote indigenous communities up to four times higher than in other communities.

None of this will be easy. Most of it will be hard, very hard. But none of it is impossible, and all of it is achievable with clear goals, clear thinking, and by placing an absolute premium on respect, cooperation and mutual responsibility as the guiding principles of this new partnership on closing the gap.

The mood of the nation is for reconciliation now, between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The mood of the nation on Indigenous policy and politics is now very simple.

The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering, our point-scoring and our mindlessly partisan politics and to elevate this one core area of national responsibility to a rare position beyond the partisan divide.

Surely this is the unfulfilled spirit of the 1967 referendum. Surely, at least from this day forward, we should give it a go.

Let me take this one step further and take what some may see as a piece of political posturing and make a practical proposal to the opposition on this day, the first full sitting day of the new parliament.

I said before the election that the nation needed a kind of war cabinet on parts of Indigenous policy, because the challenges are too great and the consequences are too great to allow it all to become a political football, as it has been so often in the past.

I therefore propose a joint policy commission, to be led by the Leader of the Opposition and me, with a mandate to develop and implement, to begin with, an effective housing strategy for remote communities over the next five years.

It will be consistent with the government's policy framework, a new partnership for closing the gap. If this commission operates well, I then propose that it work on the further task of constitutional recognition of the first Australians, consistent with the longstanding platform commitments of my party and the pre-election position of the opposition.

This would probably be desirable in any event because, unless such a proposition were absolutely bipartisan, it would fail at a referendum. As I have said before, the time has come for new approaches to enduring problems.

Working constructively together on such defined projects would, I believe, meet with the support of the nation. It is time for fresh ideas to fashion the nation's future.

Mr Speaker, today the parliament has come together to right a great wrong. We have come together to deal with the past so that we might fully embrace the future. We have had sufficient audacity of faith to advance a pathway to that future, with arms extended rather than with fists still clenched.

So let us seize the day. Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection.

Let us take it with both hands and allow this day, this day of national reconciliation, to become one of those rare moments in which we might just be able to transform the way in which the nation thinks about itself, whereby the injustice administered to the stolen generations in the name of these, our parliaments, causes all of us to reappraise, at the deepest level of our beliefs, the real possibility of reconciliation writ large: reconciliation across all indigenous Australia; reconciliation across the entire history of the often bloody encounter between those who emerged from the Dreamtime a thousand generations ago and those who, like me, came across the seas only yesterday; reconciliation which opens up whole new possibilities for the future.

It is for the nation to bring the first two centuries of our settled history to a close, as we begin a new chapter. We embrace with pride, admiration and awe these great and ancient cultures we are truly blessed to have among us cultures that provide a unique, uninterrupted human thread linking our Australian continent to the most ancient prehistory of our planet.

Growing from this new respect, we see our indigenous brothers and sisters with fresh eyes, with new eyes, and we have our minds wide open as to how we might tackle, together, the great practical challenges that Indigenous Australia faces in the future.

Let us turn this page together: indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, government and opposition, Commonwealth and state, and write this new chapter in our nation's story together.

First Australians, First Fleeters, and those who first took the oath of allegiance just a few weeks ago. Let's grasp this opportunity to craft a new future for this great land: Australia. I commend the motion to the House.


TOMORROW: Sydney Morning Herald souvenir Sorry Day edition.

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