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Letter Regarding the Stolen Generation

30 July 2000

Letter forwarded from WILPF (Australia) who are the facilitating agency for the World March of Women.

World March of Women in the Year 2000
Australia National Organising Committee
C/o GPO Box 2094
Adelaide   SA   5001

Hon. Senator John Herron
Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
Parliament House

Dear Minister Herron,

Re Government Submission to Senate's Constitutional Legal Affairs Committee

We write on behalf of the national organising committee of the World March of Women in the Year 2000 (WMW2000) following recent comments by Cathy Freeman concerning government insensitivity to reports of the Stolen Generations. Senator Richard Alston's initial remarks in response to Cathy Freeman's statements - that they were simply "her opinion" - perpetuate the pattern of recent government insensitivities on issues of deep concern to Australia's Indigenous peoples.

The WMW2000 national organising committee comprises representatives of nineteen national women's organisations and constituencies including two Indigenous Australian women, one representative of Non-English Speaking Background women and representatives from organisations including the YWCA, United Nations Association of Australia Women's Committee, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Women's Rights Action Network Australia, Older Women's Network, Australian Council of Trade Unions Women's Network, Women With Disabilities Australia, Women's Electoral Lobby, National Women's Media Centre, Coalition of Activist Lesbians, Union of Australian Women, National Union of Students Women's Committee, Australian Reproductive Health Alliance and the Baha'i Women's Network. Together we represent over one million Australian women.

We understand that the Government's submission to the Senate's Constitutional Legal Affairs Committee's Inquiry argued that the evidence of Indigenous children having been forcibly removed from their parents was "only anecdotal" and that the forcible removals as outlined in HREOC's "Bringing Them Home" report had not been subjected to "proper scrutiny". We further understand that while the Government's submission does not deny that Aboriginal children were removed, it does question the extent to which the forcible removals were undertaken, accepting the very lowest estimate of the numbers of children affected by the practice.

We write now to convey to you our profound dismay and regret at this attempted diminishment and lack of respect on the part of the Australian Government of the pain and anguish of members of the Stolen Generations.

In the circumstances, we consider that our political leaders would do well to reflect and give adequate political expression to the depth of feeling among the Australian people on this issue. As you will be aware, these are sentiments which are held very widely in the community at large. Massive turnouts at recent reconciliation marches across the nation, in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, in May and June this year, provide clear indications of the depth of conviction in the Australian community on this and other issues related to reconciliation. We can only concur with Senator Ridgeway when he compares the Government's present denial to denying the Holocaust.

Furthermore, we believe that the assertion on the part of the Government that the removal of the children reflected the values and norms of the time is tantamount to denying the effects of government policies on the lives and situation of Aboriginal peoples. In his book "This Whispering in our Hearts", Henry Reynolds documents countless cases of non-aboriginal Australians making protest even in the 19th century to the English and/ or colonial/ national Governments concerning such abuses. Radio National's "Background Briefing" of 2nd July similarly documents protest early in the twentieth century on the part of certain groups (especially women's groups) concerning the forced separation of children from their mothers.

In the light of these considerations, we now call on the Australian Government to review its handling of this issue and:

  • to make unequivocal and forthright apologies to the Stolen Generations, both for past Government practices and policies of forced removals, and in addition for this more recent attempted diminishment on the part of the Government of the pain and loss suffered as a result of the forced removals;
  • to discontinue the practice of challenging in the courts those who have been adversely impacted by the practice of the forced removals and to negotiate instead with the members of the Stolen Generations an acceptable legal settlement including reparations (over and above any monies already budgeted for counselling);
  • to restore ATSIC's budget to the real value of its 1995-96 funding level.

It is our sincere hope that you will be able to use your good offices to ensure that an acceptable and just outcome is reached to ensure that grave error on the part of former Australian governments is not compounded now. Thank you for your kind attention. We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Cathy Picone On behalf of the national organising committee World March of Women in the Year 2000 - Australia

cc. Hon Phillip Ruddock, Minister for Immigration and Minister Assisting the PM on Reconciliation, Senator Aden Ridgeway, Ms Cathy Freeman

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