Additional comments by Senator Andrew Bartlett
The Committee's report contains a valuable summary of the views, ideas
and information provided to the inquiry on the issue of compensation for the
Stolen Generations. The report reflects the fact that most of the submissions
and evidence supported the introduction of some form of compensation and wider
support to deal with the ongoing damage caused by past practices.
I agree with the Committee's recommendations in the broad, and make
particular note of the recommendation to establish a National Healing Fund in
order to provide further much needed healing and bridging services to members
of the Stolen Generations. These are vital to the process of healing for
families and communities and must be part of a holistic approach. Compensation,
whether through the mechanism proposed in my legislation or some other model,
is only one part of what still needs to be done.
My decision to introduce legislation proposing a form of compensation
for the Stolen Generations, in line with the original recommendations in the
Bringing Them Home Report, arose out of numerous representations and comments I
received in meetings and gatherings with Indigenous Australians in many parts
of the country.
I first introduced it in 2007 in the lead up to the tenth anniversary of
the Bringing Them Home Report as a way to highlight that, while the issue of a
national apology had received most of the attention, this was only one
component of the recommendations dealing with reparation, and a number of other
aspects had also not been implemented.
The aim was not to propose the definitive model for reparations and
compensation, but to put the issue back on the political agenda and provide
some focus to the debate. It was intended to be a vehicle to engage Indigenous
communities, organisations and the legal fraternity into providing the
committee with new and more viable models.
I would like to take the opportunity here to acknowledge the important
work that the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and Australian Human
Rights Centre (AHRC) have done on this issue and applaud the model they have
proposed, which is outlined in paragraphs 3.95 – 3.98 of this report.
I support the recommendations they have made that this Bill be replaced
by the PIAC's Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal Bill which more fully
encapsulates the reparation measures contained in the Bringing Them Home Report
and takes other matters into consideration that are not covered in this Bill.
In the wake of the national apology delivered by the new Rudd
government, I took the opportunity to re-introduce an amended form of my Bill
to the Senate a day after the apology was given. While the apology was a very
welcome and positive action by the government, it is regrettable that the idea
of monetary compensation has been unequivocally rejected by the Prime Minister,
particularly given that – as noted in paragraph 2.8 - Labor members of this
Senate Committee recommended the establishment of a reparations tribunal in a
report tabled in November 2000.
I do not suggest the Bringing Them Home Report should take the form of
holy writ that must be implemented in full without question, particularly given
over ten years have now passed. However, the new government should give full
consideration to its outstanding recommendations before they are rejected and
give solid reasons why they are doing so. The submission from FaHCSIA to this
inquiry does not show any sign that any such genuine consideration has
occurred. Instead, comments from the Department such as those quoted in
paragraph 2.14 of this report, seem to give the quite false implication that
somehow the government's view is in keeping with the Bringing Them Home
recommendations on reparation.
In apologising and acknowledging the hurt and harm caused by policies of
the government of the day, it is important that the present government also
recognise that an apology was part of an interlinked suite of measures to
provide proper reparation. Mechanisms to provide monetary compensation should
also be part of that. It is not acceptable that the only avenues open to
members of the Stolen Generation are through lengthy and expensive legal
The case of Bruce Trevorrow is one that was frequently referred to in
this inquiry. It shows the great time, expense and trauma it takes to get such
cases to court. Many Indigenous elders are passing on at an incredible rate
and do not have the luxury of waiting another decade battling various
governments in courts. Litigation being an adversarial system is also a
traumatic process that should not be further imposed on people who are already
disadvantaged and in need of support.
The ability to explore legal avenues also presupposes that applicants
have financial means in the first place unless they are able to avail
themselves to pro bono advocates. Many already suffer financial hardship and
damaged lives. It must be remembered that there are many Stolen Generations
members who were also further affected by policies which withheld the monies they
earned. The term Stolen Wages is appropriately applied to this practice. It
has been the subject of a previous report by this Senate Committee tabled in
I take the opportunity to remind the Senate that eighteen months later there
has still be no government response to this unanimous report.
I agree with the majority Committee recommendation that the Bill not
proceed in its current form, but also recommend that the Bill be modified by
adopting the amendments proposed by PIAC/AHRC's submission as shown in their
Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal Bill, which should then be passed by
To further enhance the effectiveness of Recommendation 2 in the majority
report, funding should be made available for specific initiatives. One such
initiative could be convening a conference to provide opportunities for those
removed from their families to determine future policy in relation to the
support required to address the effects of separation from their families for
themselves, and their families.
That further support be provided to develop and promote factual
historical information about the Stolen Generations and the effects of previous
government policies which removed Indigenous children from their families.
Senator Andrew Bartlett
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