• Event

Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants, Parliament of Australia


On 16 November 2009, the Australian Parliament issued an apology to Forgotten Australians and former child migrants.

The Apology in November 2009 was an endorsement of Recommendation 1 from the ‘Forgotten Australians’ report of 2004, which read:

That the Commonwealth Government issue a formal statement acknowledging, on behalf of the nation, the hurt and distress suffered by many children in institutional care, particularly the children who were victims of abuse and assault; and apologising for the harm caused to these children.

In 2005, the Federal Government made the following response to this recommendation:

The Australian Government has great sympathy for those children who suffered hurt and distress in institutional care. While it would not be appropriate for the Australian Government to issue an apology for a matter for which it does not have responsibility, the Government expresses its sincere regret that these children were placed in situations where they did not receive the care they deserved …

The Federal Government adopted a new policy on apologising to Forgotten Australians with the election of the Rudd Labor government in 2007. This is the text of the formal apology made by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 16 November 2009 in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra:

Today, the Government of Australia will move the following motion of apology in the Parliament of Australia.
We come together today to deal with an ugly chapter in our nation’s history.
And we come together today to offer our nation’s apology.
To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without your consent, that we are sorry.
Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.
Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.
Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost,- childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work.
Sorry – for all these injustices to you, as children, who were placed in our care.
As a nation, we must now reflect on those who did not receive proper care.
We look back with shame that many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody to whom to turn.
We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and with nobody, absolutely nobody, to whom to turn.
We look back with shame that many these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually.
And we look back with shame at how those with power were allowed to abuse those who had none.
And how then, as if this was not injury enough, you were left ill-prepared for life outside – left to fend for yourselves; often unable to read or write; to struggle alone with no friends and no family.
For these failures to offer proper care to the powerless, the voiceless and the most vulnerable, we say sorry.
We reflect too today on the families who were ripped apart simply because they had fallen on hard times.
Hard times brought about by illness, by death and by poverty.
Some simply left destitute when fathers damaged by war could no longer cope.
Again, we say sorry for the extended families you never knew.
We acknowledge the particular pain of children shipped to Australia as child migrants – robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children but regarded instead as a source of child labour.
To those of you who were told you were orphans, brought here without your parents’ knowledge or consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers and fathers, and the pain these lies have caused for a lifetime.
To those of you separated on the dockside from your brothers and sisters; taken alone and unprotected to the most remote parts of a foreign land – we acknowledge today that the laws of our nation failed you.
And for this we are deeply sorry.
We think also today of all the families of these Forgotten Australians and former child migrants who are still grieving, families who were never reunited, families who were never reconciled, families who were lost to one another forever.
We reflect too on the burden that is still carried by our own children, your own children, your grandchildren, your husbands, your wives, your partners and your friends – and we thank them for the faith, the love and the depth of commitment that has helped see you through the valley of tears that was not of your own making.
And we reflect with you as well, in sad remembrance, on those who simply could not cope and who took their own lives in absolute despair.
We recognise the pain you have suffered.
Pain is so very, very personal.
Pain is so profoundly disabling.
So, let us together, as a nation, allow this apology to begin to heal this pain.
Healing the pain felt by so many of the half a million of our fellow Australians who were children in care – children in our care.
And let us also resolve this day that this national apology becomes a turning point in our nation’s story.
A turning point for shattered lives.
A turning point for governments at all levels and of every political hue and colour to do all in our power to never let this happen again.
For the protection of children is the sacred duty of us all.


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