Claire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) 1.14pm
Today is a really important day. It is an important day for all of the people who came forward and told the world, the Senate and each other about their experiences, their pain, their loss and their betrayal. It is especially important for them; it is their day. It is also an important day for our parliament, our government and our community because we have been able to stand together and say that we are sorry.
Most particularly we have been able to say, ‘We hear you and we believe you.’ So often members of this Senate were given the great honour of listening to people who had the strength, the resilience and also the anger to come forward and talk about what happened to them. Many of them said that they had felt that they had been taken away from their lives and isolated from their community and, most importantly, that they had not been respected or believed. They had the strength to come forward and tell us their stories. No-one who had the honour to be part of the process of listening to these people has remained unchanged. We have had the special privilege—from being in this party and in this place—of having the opportunity to make a difference. And as I listened today to the apology in our Great Hall I shared the emotion as I watched the people’s faces and saw how they were experiencing the process. That made a lot of the work really worth while.
We have heard already today that the role of the Senate and the Standing Committee on Community Affairs was important in this process. I am immensely proud to have been part of that committee and to have shared experiences over such a long time with so many senators. I am not going to name them all, you will be relieved to know, but I think that all of us are part of this process. You cannot pick any individual for particular effort because everyone who attended a single meeting had the honour of being part of something that was going to make a change. That has been expressed to me so many times over the last few days. I had phone calls from people who had come and given evidence and I had meetings with people who were wondering whether they would have the strength to come here today to be part of the whole very traumatic experience of the public apology.
I listened, today and last night, to people who were thinking about themselves and their own histories and about the people who could not be with us—people who have not been able to survive the process. Today there were some very important statements made about people who have gone before us and about families that have been broken. I know that the child migrant group have kept their wonderful poster about their mothers, and today there were many tears shed for broken families and in particular for mothers—mothers who had lost their children or who did not have a chance to see the future together with their families.
Today I want to pay particular respect to all of those who would not give up after years of abuse in many ways—not only physical abuse but deep psychological abuse and trauma—and who were not prepared to remain quiet. They actually took the risk, the significant risk, of coming forward with their stories and telling us about their personal pains. We must thank them today for having that strength and for giving us the important trust and responsibility of taking the challenge. We, as a government and as a parliament—as people who represent the community—have had the opportunity to listen and to make recommendations. Today one of those recommendations—just one—came forward. We now have a public apology—an acknowledgement and a real statement—on record which is about their community, their country, accepting the pain of those people. I want to thank those people who came forward. I want to acknowledge that we will continue to walk the journey with them. Today was just one step—a big step, but nonetheless one step—in the ongoing process. It makes us all stronger to be part of that.
I want to put on record particular acknowledgement of the staff members of the secretariat of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. Over many years these people have built up relationships with many people in our community who are often at the other end of the phone or the other end of an email expressing amazing pain. Many people in the secretariat—who often do not get mentioned in this place but just go about doing professional, responsive work—have made a genuine difference in the lives of many people who experienced trauma in institutions and also were child migrants.
A very special bond is built up when you are working through the whole process of public testimony. I know that all of those people in the community affairs committee secretariat have been extraordinarily important in making sure that this process has been able to occur. Over many years, through a series of reports which we have already acknowledged in this place, the people in the secretariat have maintained the respect—and the confidentiality, in many cases—of the people whose stories they have listened to. Some of those stories have not even come before the Senate because there was too much trauma and there was a desire to keep them confidential. On the record I would like to thank Elton Humphery and his marvellous team for the role that they have played in being able to make the Senate do the job that the community demands of us, which is to represent the needs of our community.
I have been deeply honoured to work on this process. I have made many, many friends. I have met with them a lot over the last few weeks. Sharing with them in this process will always remain a very important part of my time in this place. Senator McLucas and Senator Hutchins were chairs before me on the committee. I also acknowledge Senator Siewert, Senator Humphries and the then Senator Crowley. All their work will now be on record. We know of the extraordinary efforts of ex-Senator Andrew Murray. All the work was seen on his face today in that room. You could see the pride, the emotion and the sense of achievement but there was also recognition that this is an ongoing process.
We have not finished our job. We have taken one step. As I said in this place several months ago to the people who were in the gallery at that stage: ‘You are not the forgotten Australians. You will always be part of our achievements and our processes moving forward.’ The Prime Minister today called them the ‘remembered Australians’. I think that is really important, but to those people who have lived the trauma which we have heard about and will never forget I say: ‘Thank you for giving us the trust to walk this journey with you. Thank you for allowing us to hear your needs and your pain.’ In our ongoing efforts we will continue to work with the remembered Australians into the future.