Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (13:47): On 21 March 2013, our government made a formal apology to the people who have been affected by past forced adoption policies. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard made her statement in the Great Hall, which was followed up by Mr Tony Abbott, in his then capacity. Ms Gillard's apology ended with the following:

Any Australian who reads the Senate report or listens to your stories, as I have today, will be appalled by what was done to you. They will be shocked by your suffering. They will be saddened by your loss. But, most of all, they will marvel at your determination to fight for the respect of history. They will draw strength from your example. And they will be inspired by the generous spirit in which you receive this Apology-because saying sorry is only ever complete when those who are wronged accept it. Through your courage and your grace, the time of neglect is over, and the work of healing can begin.

I truly hope that the work of healing has begun.

In the subsequent time, government funding has been provided to a range of services to respond to the needs that had been identified in our Senate report. The Australian government then committed $11.5 million over four years to assist people who had been affected by forced adoptions; $5 million to improve access to specialist services, including counselling and record tracing for those affected by forced adoptions. The concept of having specialist support was so clearly identified.

In our report, a friend of mine, Katherine Rendell, recounted her experience of the complete lack of community support after her child was adopted. She said:

Back home in my community there was no opportunity to grieve, no counselling and no sympathy. The attitude was that it was all in the past.

We needed to ensure that there would be appropriate support and counselling, and particular money was provided to the Australian Psychological Society to work with providers to ensure that they would understand the issues of forced adoption, so that the women and others affected by the processes would not have to recount their stories over and over again and relive the pain, that there would be an acknowledgement that there was special need. So we were particularly pleased by that government support.

Also, there was an acknowledgement that there would need to be access to mental health support because of the trauma that was identified by the women who had their babies taken and by the grown-ups who were the children of those women who never actually received acknowledgement that they had been separated from their parents. This information permeated our Senate report and it was very clear through the national apology and the series of state apologies, as state governments put on the record their concern and their grief, that they acknowledged that women and children had suffered during this part of our history.

Through that inquiry, we consistently saw that women had been damaged for life. I draw attention again to our Senate report. It was released in February 2012-one of the best sellers amongst this Senate's reports. Reading this you cannot not be affected by the openness and the pure pain that comes through the pages. That was acknowledged by our community and our government with the apology.

One of the core aspects of the government response was to acknowledge that this history needed to be recorded so in the future we would know what happened during this time in Australia. Through that, the National Archives have done an extraordinary job in developing a website which is a wealth of information about this period of our history. It also allows people to engage with the website and tell their own stories. There is also the National Archives' travelling exhibition, Without consent: Australia's past adoption practices, which I believe is now in Western Australia. It is an awesome experience to wander through and live with the stories that are on the walls in the display and see exactly how this period of history impacted so many.

We do not know exactly how many women and men were impacted by forced adoption. We know that adoption was a policy that was highly used in Australia, particularly in the period of the 1950s through to the 1980s. How many of those could be considered forced we will never know. But through our Senate inquiry, we found that there were hundreds and hundreds of people who came forward themselves to give us their own experiences. We believe that there are possibly many more who have not yet had that chance.

Some of the research around the process of forced adoptions was done by the wonderful people at the Australian Institute of Family Studies; and, through Dr Daryl Higgins and his team, we now have a history of past adoption practices in our country so that we can understand how the processes operated, how there could be a lack of communication and indeed, how some people were traumatised beyond belief by the separation of mother and child. As part of the process there was also an opportunity for individual communities to have their own acknowledgements and their own displays to show what had gone on and also as a memento for the future. A number of them have now been built. The South Australian government has provided $50,000 for some form of memorial in South Australia. In Tasmania, a beautiful sculpture titled the Tree of Hope is being planned. There is a special plaque in Queensland which acknowledges this period of our history; and, in Victoria, a friend of mine, Brenda Coughlan, has told me that the Wellington Shire now has their own process to acknowledge a part of our history which we should never forget.

The role of the Senate inquiry was to shine a light shone on this dark period of our history. What has gone on subsequently will continue to remind all of us of what did happen and, most importantly, provide lessons for our future. We know that there has been a refocus on the issues of adoption in Australia. Whilst many of the people who took part in the Senate inquiry and gave evidence about their experiences believed, because of their own experiences, that there should never be adoption in Australia, that is not the practice that we are seeing across Australia at the moment. Several states have reviewed their own adoption processes to facilitate shorter-term processes leading to permanent adoption. There have been a number of public statements put on record by quite famous people to say that we need to move beyond what happened in the past. We have to make sure that we look at the real issue of giving children a strong future and a secure life. No-one doubts that, but my message and the message of the people who told us about what happened to them in the past is: learn from what happened and take those lessons into whatever future policies you have.

The work that the AIFS has done gives us a clear indication of what could happen and what did happen in the past which caused great damage to people's lives, destroyed family security, destroyed health and destroyed wellbeing. We can learn from those things that happened in our past, most particularly around the issues of providing effective services, wraparound services, for everyone involved in any discussion of adoption-children, birth parents and people choosing to take on the role of adoptive parents. There need to be specialised services available in the system to ensure that we do not relive the trauma of the past.

This is an important message. We understand that. Whilst this year we do not seem to have any national acknowledgement of this anniversary, at state level there will be acknowledgement ceremonies next week around the issue of the forced adoption pain in our past.

I want to thank so many women who shared their experiences with us. It is very dangerous to put on record any names, so I just want to say to all of you: we have listened. We have heard what your pain was, and we as a parliament will ensure that it will not be forgotten. I want to end with a quote that was set to me by a woman in Victoria. She said:

When we were young mothers we had no face. No-one noticed us. We were nothing to them and they treated us as lesser human beings and dismissed us as mothers. We now have a face. We are known to politicians because we have worked hard to be heard. I do not want to be ever faceless again. I want them to know who I am and I want them to know what they did to us. I am somebody. I have a face and an identity and I will never allow anyone to dismiss me again.

That statement of strength and resilience responds to the fact that we as a nation have apologised, we have acknowledged and we will never forget.