What is the Apology?
On 13 February 2008 the then Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd, made a National Apology to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Parliament and the nation. The Stolen Generations were children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who were taken from those families to be raised in institutions, fostered out or adopted by non-Indigenous families. For decades it was the practice of governments, churches and welfare groups to remove these children from their families.
Following on from the Apology in 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader the Hon Brendan Nelson committed to achieving six – later increasing to seven – goals aimed at achieving equality of health status and life expectancy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. This commitment became known as Closing the Gap.
Why did the House of Representatives discuss the Apology?
In their speeches members of the House of Representatives recognised the Apology as a significant step in improving the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, highlighted the importance of partnerships between Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ‘built on mutual trust, respect and dignity’. The Prime Minister also noted that the government would be reporting on its progress towards achieving its Closing the Gap targets in the middle of the year.
Many other members of the government, opposition and the crossbench made speeches acknowledging the anniversary including the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt MP.
Was there discussion in the Senate about the anniversary of the Apology?
Many senators made speeches marking the anniversary of the Apology and noting the importance of improving living conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Unusually, the Senate also adjourned its business temporarily in order to give senators the chance to go to the House of Representatives and listen to the Prime Minister and other members speak on the matter. Senators are not allowed to sit amongst the members of the House of Representatives but may be seated in special chairs at the edge of the chamber or watch from the public viewing galleries.