South Australian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme


 

Broadly, our Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan, identifying 32 specific items with performance measures and deliverables, is an early marker of the very sincere methodology that this government is taking to this part of public policy. There was an announcement earlier this week that the support given to those more than 300 South Australians identified by the assessor as being part of the stolen generations would increase from $20,000 to $30,000. This is not as much as some other jurisdictions but is certainly a substantially increased figure. It was a result of community consultation as to how best to spend the unused funds, at that point in time, from the community program. I think this is a sign of our sincere commitment to ensuring that those people have the best opportunity in life that we can deliver to make up for some of the past wrongs.

As the motion identifies, and as the Premier said in his speech, we absolutely encourage people to read the report by the Independent Assessor, John Hill, on the South Australian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme. It makes for sobering reading and it makes for serious reading, but I think any South Australian who has an interest in public policy, in our history and in supporting the best outcomes for our entire community would benefit from reading it. It is entirely readable.

I will go to the general observations, where I particularly want to draw to the members' attention a couple of things on pages 39 and 40. I encourage all members and observers to go on and do their own reading. In describing the way that he went about compiling this report, John Hill writes:

It became clear to me…how an applicant was treated after removal bore no relationship at all to the reasons for or method of removal. Children were removed as early as a few days old through to the teens; they were removed with court orders, without court orders, by adoption or by informal fostering arrangements. None of these pathways seem to have produced, in and of themselves, better outcomes. Children were variously placed in (usually) church-run institutions, either on reserves or in the city, placed in foster care or on occasions, adopted.

If they were lucky, they would experience kindness, security and love, regardless of where they were placed or why they were placed there. But, even these lucky ones usually were denied access to family, forbidden to speak language and sometimes were not even aware of their Aboriginality.

The unlucky—the majority—had horrible, even barbaric experiences. The care at best was often indifferent, perfunctory and authoritarian—within both institutions and families. Many children were told that they had been abandoned or that their parents were dead; many in family care were treated as little more than domestic servants; if there were other children in the family they were often the second class citizens, made to eat later with smaller portions, given few new clothes and toys. There is no doubt that some foster carers exploited the welfare payments for Aboriginal foster children to support their own lifestyle.

John Hill concludes that statement by saying:

Just as our returned soldiers are recognised, the Stolen Generations need to be shown continued care and understanding by the community generally, and by government in particular.

I do not think there is a member in this chamber who would disagree with those sentiments or be appalled. I do not think there is a person in our community who would be anything but appalled by the descriptions of the treatments of children. The consequential effects on community, alienation from culture and understanding of place in the world amongst young Aboriginal men and women today has had significant and profound effects, and there are steps that we can take, must take and are taking to address some of those issues.

We said sorry in this chamber 22 years ago and we had the national apology halfway since, 11 years ago. It does do to remind ourselves sometimes of the appalling treatment that has led to individual suffering, individual pain for those people who have been particularly affected as individuals, but I suppose it is more community suffering, such as the loss of language.

The deputy leader talked about leaders, such as Uncle Lewis. I was talking with Uncle Lewis and his son Micky recently about the impact of language in schools and the challenges as we support the teaching of the Kaurna language to people who are eager to learn it, but of course there are so few people who have the capacity to teach it. That is a significant challenge for us and one that we are eager to address.

I asked the question: if we are talking about Aboriginal language, then where is our starting point? And, of course, the first starting point suggested was to start with the land that the school is on. Of course, 70 per cent of our schools in South Australia are on Kaurna land, so that has a particular resonance with the Kaurna language.

I was very pleased when we announced the government's Innovative Language Program Grants late last year. However, of the five primary schools that got those Innovative Language Program Grants—assessed on merit as to the capability of the school to deliver a program that was innovative, that would enrich student and benefit language studies—one was indeed Adnyamathanha in the member for Stuart's electorate, and I know it is working with the University of Adelaide. I think it was Leigh Creek from memory.

The work that is being done in education is critical to addressing this over the longer term, helping to reduce that alienation from culture and increase an understanding of pride in culture, a pride in history and position in the world amongst young people. One of the things that was described by Professor Peter Buckskin—who is the chair of our reference school and who is developing our Aboriginal Education Strategy 2019 to 2029—is that it is not enough for us to do what we can to help a student get ready for school: we also must do what we can to ensure that the school is ready for the student.

There are cultural challenges in that. Sometimes it is challenging for somebody who has had no experience in culture to be able to make that connection, but we as a government, we as an education department—and I am sure the opposition supports this—are working very hard to fulfil our Aboriginal Education Strategy. We have funded support to ensure that that cultural support is there and for our staff to be ready to give those students the support they need.

I commend the government's Aboriginal Action Plan to all those in the chamber, and not only the 32 actions there but also the Aboriginal Education Strategy. We have a 10-year set of goals with some very ambitious targets. We want to see young Aboriginal people in our community have the same educational outcomes as a proportion of the rest of the population.

It is heart-wrenching to even say the words that that is an ambitious goal. It should not be an ambitious goal, yet it is understandably so. But how can our aspiration be anything less for our Aboriginal young people and for South Australia as a community? So that is our goal. We have shorter term targets and a road map to supporting those students to have that achievement.

We are investing significantly in identifying challenged groups to get extra support. We are investing in the South Australian Aboriginal Sports Training Academy (SAASTA). Indeed, they are extending their remit. I understand that they desire now to call themselves the secondary training academy, as we are extending beyond just sports training to STEM education and other forms of education.

We are supporting the Clontarf Foundation, which has enabled us to engage extra resources from the federal government and from the private sector for a group of students—young boys in particular—who would not be eligible for the support that SAASTA provides, to get them back into school and back into education using the opportunity created by some of their heroes in the football field. They have access to football training, but to get it you have to be working at school.

There is a lot of work to do here, but in December, of course, we had the appointment of South Australia's first ever Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People. At a personal level, I am particularly pleased that April Lawrie did well and got the role because, of course, we have been working with her all year on the development of the Aboriginal Education Strategy, as the former director of Aboriginal education in the education department. April has been in place for a couple of months now. She has a significant body of work ahead of her, and I have great confidence in her capacity to impact real change in the way that government does its business. I think that there is a strong body of work ahead there.

I commend the motion to the house. I thank all those people who, at potentially significant personal challenge to themselves, contributed to the assessor's report, shared their stories with the assessor and continue to engage with government to ensure that the next generations have a better time of it and a better life, and we as a government are committed to supporting that.

Mr HUGHES (Giles) (12:27): I rise today to add a few words and to acknowledge the strong bipartisan support for this motion. Not only do we have the tabling of the report of the South Australian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme but also yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the national apology by the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, reflecting the views of many people in our community. I do not want to reflect upon the resistance at the time by some to that apology in our national parliament. The important thing is that the apology was made and the sentiments expressed did have widespread support across the major political parties and some of the smaller political parties.

South Australia is at its best when it does lead, and it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that it is 22 years, as the member for Morialta pointed out, since this parliament made an apology to the stolen generations. The report and the actions that are going to be taken are a practical manifestation of both that apology and the words in this chamber. It is worthwhile reflecting on the words of the Hon. John Hill in the introduction to the report. He said:

There is much for government and society, in general, to reflect on and learn in relation to the policies and practices that produced the Stolen Generations—the Apology, the Bringing Them Home Report and the establishment of the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme were all important steps; but they are but small steps on the road to Reconciliation; the intergenerational impacts are profound and need sustained and culturally sensitive attention.

For far too many years the trauma arising as a result of children being taken away from their families was not addressed, and when trauma is not addressed it cascades down through the generations in all sorts of forms. One of the most disturbing things—and there were a lot of disturbing things—was to hear a woman who was taken as a young child. As a result, she found it incredibly difficult to love. She said that she lacked the capacity to love and so, when she had children, that impact was there: it impacted on her children. That shows one way in which this trauma, this injustice, has cascaded down the generations.

The breakfast yesterday in honour of the 11th anniversary was attended by a lot of people, as these breakfasts always are. Probably 1,500-plus people were there and, as has been said, it was good to see students from a number of schools attend the breakfast and maybe get some insight into what happened.

Those opposite have acknowledged the Welcome to Country from Suzanne Russell on that day, and it was a moving, powerful Welcome to Country. We often say that a picture can paint a thousand words, but music often goes beyond words and touches something incredibly deep. To listen to the music yesterday from Vonda was deeply moving and deeply touching.

In the question and answer session was a man I consider a bit of a legend, Uncle Jack Charles. He was taken away from his family at a young age to the point where early on in his life he did not know that he was Aboriginal. He is a man who has clearly been through a lot, including homelessness and being a user of heroin until the age of 60. He talked about how he was a cat-burglar, amongst other things. His was the story of a life shaped by much that had happened in the early part of his life when he had absolutely no control.

He did not deny agency or deny choices he had made, but those choices were made in a particular context at a particular time. To see someone who came through that, there was obviously a resilience there. I thought the humour, self-deprecation and his capacity to reach out in an extremely open and honest way in telling his story was incredibly important. If you have not seen the short documentary about his life, I would encourage you to do so. He is now a man who makes a contribution in so many ways by going back to the prisons in which he served, amongst other prisons, and various centres where juveniles are held to tell his story in a way that hopefully people can understand and respond to.

I think the words of the apology 11 years ago are worth reflecting upon. I am not a particularly articulate person. You can make of prime minister Rudd whatever you want, but the point is that he did make that apology and that government did make that apology. I know at the time it would have been supported by a significant number of people on the other side of the chamber. His words were:

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.

These are incredibly important words. I would just like to finish by mentioning the Hon. John Hill and the work, the effort and the sensitivity with which he approached the task he was given. He spoke to a lot of people during this process. I think there were 449 applicants of whom he spoke directly to 352, and just a small number of those stories are reflected in the report. The member for Morialta and others have indicated that it would pay people to read the report and some of those personal stories.

I would like to commend the Hon. John Hill but, as he said, the people who should really be commended are those who came forward and all those who suffered as a result of those past policies. We do need to learn from what has happened because we have a tendency to repeat transgressions in different forms as we go on. I commend the motion and the strong bipartisan support for the motion.

Mr DULUK (Waite) (12:36): I also rise to say a few words on the Premier's motion before the house in relation to the report by the Independent Assessor, the Hon. John Hill, in terms of the South Australian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme. I am glad, as I think are all sides of the house, that this has now become a bipartisan issue.

For much of the last parliament, the then government did not want to take serious steps in terms of appropriate reparations on this matter. The original bill was introduced in the upper house back in 2014 as a result of the work of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, which I now serve on. I recall saying back in 2015 that the bill was about righting the historical wrong of forcibly removing children from their parents solely on the basis of the colour of their skin.

As the Premier and the Minister for Education remarked in their contributions, I urge members to take the opportunity to get their hands on the report and read the applicants' submissions, their experiences and what they went through. One of the important lessons that we have perhaps learned from the wrongs of the past is around the taking away of language, the importance of language to people and what language means. The more we can do to preserve language for this nation—any language but, in this context, Indigenous language—is so important for the identity of so many people.

As a government, we have talked so much about the wrongs of the past, and it is important. I give full credit to the Premier as the minister responsible for the balance of funds in the reparations scheme. Some additional $10,000 will be given to the 312 successful applicants under the scheme as part of the residual tail in funding. What is important is what we can do, in terms of practical steps going forward, to further walk down the path of reconciliation. It is not just a statement of acknowledgement, which is so important, but a statement of what more needs to be done.

We must also acknowledge that there is dysfunction in many Indigenous communities. There are standards of living, standards of crime and standards of health outcomes that we just would not accept in any other community in Australia. It is our job, in government and in those communities, to collectively, practically and hastily correct a lot of those social ills. It is important to do so. Bearing in mind that we have recognised the sins of the past, it is the responsibility of us all to ensure that Australians, no matter where they live, have the best possible outcomes going forward.

Going back to the language component, the teaching and continuation of language and culture is so important to so many of us, no matter where we come from. That plays an important role in terms of reconciliation.

The Prime Minister is today speaking about Closing the Gap, which addresses some of the recommendations that came out of the national apology 11 years ago. The 11th Closing the Gap report is being handed down today and reveals a decade-long failure to meet so many of the targets that were set 11 years ago in relation to health, education, employment and life expectancy outcomes for Indigenous communities. These targets have not been met, and that is a failing of federal, state and local governments and a failing of our Australian community more broadly.

As part of the Closing the Gap initiatives announced by Prime Minister Morrison today, a huge injection of education funding—$200 million—is to be implemented into 300 schools across the nation in order to keep Indigenous children in school and to design our whole education system. One thing I always talk about in this chamber is how providing the right education to all Australians is a great way of lifting people out of poverty and other circumstances and empowering individuals to make the right choices. In his contribution, the member for Giles referred to Uncle Jack and making the right choices in people's lives.

I commend the work of Reconciliation SA in promoting reconciliation and healing the rift between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. I am proud to be a board member and parliamentary representative, along with the member for Giles. Reconciliation SA also looks at practical ways in which we can raise recognition, and the need for our communities to work together and stand together.

I commend the recent work of this government, and specifically the Premier for his whole-of-government approach to reconciliation. This side of the house believes it should no longer be a symbolic term and gesture, or a politically correct echo chamber platitude, but a practical component, which is so important. Having a whole-of-government approach and ensuring that government departments in their entirety have an Indigenous focus is so important. As I said at the beginning of my contribution, an important part of reconciliation is recognition of stolen generations and additional funding by way of reparations.

Governments cannot solve all the problems in this policy area, and nor should they be seen as the sole body that can do so. In the past year, the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee received a lot of evidence from Aboriginal communities all around South Australia, including from your communities, Deputy Speaker. In the evidence presented to our committee, in terms of the operational review of the Aboriginal Lands Trust Act, one of the overwhelming views was the right to autonomy and the right to the responsibility to make decisions for themselves. I think it is so important that we as the state government ensure that every single South Australian is treated equally and given the rights and responsibilities they need to make the correct choices in their own lives.

In closing, I encourage members to obtain a copy of the Report of the South Australian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme. I thank the Independent Assessor, the Hon. John Hill, for his work. More importantly, I thank those individuals—I think there were some 400-odd individuals who applied under the scheme and 312 successful applicants—for coming forward, for sharing their stories and for allowing themselves to be in some way acknowledged for the hurt caused to them and their families for no reason other than where, when and why they were born.

Mr PATTERSON (Morphett) (12:45): I also rise to make a short contribution to note that the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme report has been received. It is a small step on the road to reconciliation but a critical part of the healing process for our First Nation people who have been here for many generations going back 65,000 years. It has been a massive disruption in that time line for so many, so it is an important step that has been brought to us by the Independent Assessor, the Hon. John Hill.

I commend Mr Hill for the thoroughness of his work and the content of the report itself. I note in the report that, to satisfy the need for accountability and transparency, he had to outline the processes undertaken, but that would really be an injustice to the stories of so many people that are part of that. So, rather than being just a bland document, it does outline many of the stories of people who were affected by this, to ensure that it is a real account.

In regard to how this report came to be received in this parliament here in South Australia, it goes back many years but, in terms of the path to reconciliation, one of the first steps was in the federal parliament with the Bringing Them Home report tabled in 1995. That was an inquiry into the stolen generations and the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report itself made many recommendations, including recording testimonies of people and about how important it is that people's stories are heard, acknowledging that, and an apology, a commemoration, and education for the wider Australian community about the hurt and suffering experienced, including assisting Aboriginal people to learn their language again.

We heard the member for Waite saying that one of the real disruptive elements of this is the loss of language. I have certainly noticed in my time in public office, first as mayor and now as the member for Morphett, the growing awareness around the Kaurna language in the area we are living in on the Kaurna plains, and how there is a significant effort made by Indigenous people to relearn their language and hear it spoken as well. It certainly tries to reinstitute that link.

Finally, getting back to the Bringing Them Home report, another recommendation was that compensation, as a lump sum, be considered. While you can never use money as a way to try to recompense for the hurt and suffering people have gone through, the main rationale for this national compensation was so that they did not have to go to court to be compensated. Significantly, two days later in May 1997, after that report was tabled here in the South Australian parliament, an apology was given by the then South Australian minister for Aboriginal affairs, Dean Brown, who was later to become premier. It stated:

…to the children who were taken from their mothers and fathers, to the mothers and fathers who watched in pain as their babies and children were taken from their side or from their schools. To those people, we apologise.

That was an important next step for people but, while apologies are certainly important, continuing action is also required. Out of that, public education is obviously required. Further to that, in 2010 the Hon. Tammy Franks introduced the Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal Bill in an attempt to take up one of the recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report. This led to a parliamentary inquiry into the reparations scheme, which was initially taken up in a bipartisan fashion, certainly by this side of the house. Ultimately, the former government established the reparations scheme, which has now become the responsibility of our government to complete. Originally, a $20,000 ex gratia payment was envisaged to those affected, having South Australia as their origin. This is a very important next step.

The other part to this report that I think is important is that it also documents the statements of many of the applicants. In fact, there were 449 applicants to this scheme and the Independent Assessor met with over 300 of them. Reading some of the stories in the report really was a tale of sadness. The stories that were put onto paper were harrowing. The Hon. John Hill stressed that it is important to see them as survivors, not as victims. Also, he noted that it was important to acknowledge their generosity of spirit. Again, as the Hon. John Hill said, rather than trying to tell their story, it is best to let some of the worst affected of this stolen generation tell their own story.

One lady was taken from her mother whilst very young. The unfortunate thing about this was that she was given to adoptive parents and those adoptive parents divorced, and this led to the child being put into an orphanage. It just beggars belief what benefits the authorities could have ever expected from of a child being taken away from its birth mother and then left in an orphanage. I will tell her story in her words:

[In this orphanage] Every week new children turned up, fresh from the desert—

They were told they were there for an education—

…but us children, young as we were, we knew that the only education they wanted was hunting and gathering.

She goes on to say:

On one occasion I came across two tiny children two and three years of age who had just arrived from the desert. They were cowering and sobbing in the corner of the huge dominating foyer with a massive staircase and balustrade. I was only young myself, 11 or 12. I got down on my hands and knees and stretched out my hand to them to try and coax them out of the corner…seeing them cowering there, terrified, has haunted me my whole life…I sobbed myself to sleep—yet again.

These are tales of sadness. Unfortunately, when she found her original birth mother, she was informed that she was of the Narungga people of Point Pearce.

…I have documentation which traces my family back four generations and I have been told that I am the fourth generation to be stolen. So my mother, my mother's mother and her mother were all forcibly removed.

As I have said, there was massive disruption of this proud culture. Young children, 11 and 12 years old, were taking the place of mothers for even younger children. It is very hard to comprehend how this could be seen as beneficial to them. She further states:

NO ONE IN MY ENTIRE CHILDHOOD EVER SAID 'I LOVE YOU'…NO ONE EVER GAVE ME A HUG.

NO ONE EVER ASKED ME 'HOW WAS SCHOOL TODAY?'

BECAUSE NO ONE CARED!

These are harrowing stories and there are further stories. Just to bring home this story of sadness, two young sisters were brought into another orphanage and separated. If I could just highlight a statement within the report:

The children so strong, so versatile in times of adversity playing and working throughout the days, at night the muffled sounds of crying for home, scared and alone with no hope no voice.

Children grieving, waiting for scheduled family visits. Some lucky, some not. Sadness prevailed, hope diminished each time.

Putting the stories of people into this report really brings home the disruption and dislocation experienced by the stolen generations. Hopefully, this reparation is a step. I will finish by acknowledging what the Hon. John Hill said, and I quote:

There is much for government and society, in general, to reflect on and learn in relation to the policies and practices that produced the Stolen Generations [and the steps that have been taken now] are but small steps on the road to Reconciliation; the intergenerational impacts are profound and need sustained and culturally sensitive attention.

It really is important that this government continues with that in mind. I note that the Premier is very involved. He is the first Premier to take on the responsibility of the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation portfolio, and it is an important portfolio. He has done this to ensure that it is front of mind across all government agencies. If all in this house could continue to keep it front of mind, it can only be beneficial and will help in the road to reconciliation.

Mr TEAGUE (Heysen) (12:56): I rise also to support the motion and to commend the Premier and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in this place, as the member for Morphett has observed, on his motion today to note the report of the South Australian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme by the Hon. John Hill.

I have listened carefully to the debate this morning and this afternoon on the motion, and I wholeheartedly endorse and amplify all the observations of honourable members to date. I do not propose to repeat them, but I encourage all of us here, and all South Australians, to read and to absorb some of the personal stories expressed in the report. There are so many.

We must take the important step to go about the process of implementing the reparations scheme and that we do so fairly and diligently as a government. I commend the government for its work in that direction so far. I will say a few words later in my remarks about the Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan that was launched by the Premier at the end of last year, which will take this forward.

I propose to make some remarks about the history of Indigenous relations in this state, including some of its very positive aspects dating back to the beginning of the colony and also some of the more shameful episodes we have unfortunately encountered. It is true that the history of South Australia is a history that differs in some ways from that of the federated Australia post 1901. It is important to note that our endeavours to relate, to engage, to understand and ultimately to reconcile have followed a journey in this state that is its own journey. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 12:59 to 14:00.