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Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the following contains the names and voices of people who are deceased.
This content contains information about violence and abuse that may be distressing.

On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a formal apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, particularly the Stolen Generations, on behalf of the nation at Australian Parliament House.

The Apology was presented as a motion for voting to the Chamber. It acknowledged that ‘the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments had resulted in the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and ‘inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians’.

Between 1910 and 1970 thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families and communities by churches, welfare organisations and governments. The exact number is not known. However, is estimated that, anywhere from 1 in 10 to 1 in 3 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and fostered or adopted by non-Indigenous families or raised in institutions. These children are known as the Stolen Generations. Many experienced neglect, physical and sexual abuse and exploitative labour, and were denied contact with their families.1

Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples

In 1995 a National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families was established by  then Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch. The Inquiry – conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission – received nearly 800 submissions, including evidence from 535 from Indigenous individuals and organisations.

Lots of white kids do get taken away, but that’s for a reason – not like us. We just got taken away because we was black kids, I suppose – half-caste kids. If they wouldn’t like it, they shouldn’t do it to Aboriginal families.

Confidential evidence 357, South Australia
Bringing Them Home, 1997

On 26th May 1997 the Inquiry’s Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament. The Report documented the grief and loss caused by the breaking of cultural, spiritual, and family ties, and the intergenerational impact on the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as their resilience and dignity:

For individuals, their removal as children and the abuse they experienced at the hands of the authorities, or their delegates, have permanently scarred their lives. The harm continues in later generations, affecting their children and grandchildren.

Bringing Them Home, 1997

A key recommendation of the report was the need for an official acknowledgement of and apology for the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

The Government has to explain why it happened. What was the intention? I have to know why I was taken. I have to know why I was given the life I was given and why I’m scarred today. Why was my Mum meant to suffer? Why was I made to suffer with no Aboriginality and no identity, no culture? Why did they think that the life they gave me was better than the one my Mum would give me? And an apology is important because I’ve never been apologised to. My mother’s never been apologised to, not once, and I would like to be apologised to.

Confidential evidence 139, Victoria: woman removed at 12 months in 1967
Bringing Them Home, 1997

On 13th of February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a formal Apology on behalf of the nation to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, particularly the Stolen Generations.

I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

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.

The Hon Kevin Rudd
13 February 2008


The National Apology is considered a milestone step toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The Prime Minister’s speech was met with applause, tears, and relief from many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including members of the Stolen Generations, present in the House of Representatives. Thousands of people gathered throughout the country to watch a broadcast of the Apology, including hundreds watching from the Great Hall and thousands on the lawns outside Parliament House.

Following the speeches, Lorraine Peeters (Weilwun and Gamilaroi peoples), acting on behalf of the Stolen Generations present in the Parliament, presented a glass coolamon to the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson. The coolamon – made by Bai Bai Napangardi, an artist from the Balgo community in Western Australia – contained a message that said:

On behalf of our people, thank you for saying sorry. In return we give you this gift on behalf of us affected by being taken away from our families. This is our way of saying thank you. The gift is a glass coolamon, fragile yet strong. Coolamons have carried our children. The gift is a symbol of the hope we place in the new relationship you wish to forge with our people. A relationship that itself is fragile yet strong. We have a new covenant between our peoples, that we will do all we can to make sure our children are carried forward, loved and nurtured and able to live a full life.’

The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition then jointly presented the coolamon to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who accepted it saying:

I gratefully receive this gift on behalf of the House. It will represent a very important point in the history of not only this chamber but our nation.3

At the conclusion of the formal proceedings in the Chamber, an event was held in Members Hall, attended by many representatives of the Stolen Generations, Indigenous leaders, Indigenous and other organisations, and current and former parliamentarians. There, Tom Calma, then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, responded to the Apology. Nominated by the National Stolen Generations Alliance and the National Sorry Day Committee, the two national bodies representing the Stolen Generations and their families, he declared that it was an ‘historic day’, one

… on which ‘our leaders – across the political spectrum – have chosen dignity, hope and respect as the guiding principles for the relationship with our first nations’ peoples’. 

The National Apology and the Coolamon are on display at Parliament House.

Bai Bai Napangardi (c.1934–2020), Luwantja (Coolamon), c.2006, Official Gifts Collection, Parliament House Art Collection, Department of Parliamentary Services.

1. The information in the paragraph is from: Australian Human Rights Commission, Bringing them Home, Commonwealth of Australia, 1997.
2. House of Representatives, Votes and Proceedings, no. 60 1988-99, 26 August 1999; Senate, Journals of the Senate, no. 63, 1988-99, 26 August 1999.
3. H Jenkins (Speaker), ‘Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples’, House of Representatives, Debates, 13 February 2008, p. 177.

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Members Hall, Level 1.

Read the full transcript of the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples motion, 13 February 2008
Read the Bringing Them Home report
Watch the Apology speech by Kevin Rudd AC

Watch the response speech by Professor Tom Calma AO, Kungarakan Elder

Further resources
Read the full transcript of Tom Calma’s response
Read the Senate speeches, 13 February 2008
Read the Federation Chamber debates, 14, 18, 19, 20 February 2008

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We acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of country throughout Australia and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to the people, the cultures and the elders past, present and emerging.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this website may contain images and voices of deceased people.