Government apologies for past injustices provide an opportunity for the people affected to be heard and know that they are not alone, as well as for broader society to acknowledge and seek to understand what happened. Annual commemorations of apologies also create opportunities for collective grieving and community building.
In response to rigorous lobbying and advocacy by people affected by adoption, several inquiries into adoption policies and practices in Australia have been conducted since the late 1980s leading to an inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee (2012) into past forced adoption policies and practices, released on 29 February 2012, and culminating in the National Apology for Forced Adoptions on 21 March 2013.
West Australia Apology – Tuesday 19 October 2010
Prior to the release of the Senate Committee Affairs Reference Committee (2012) inquiry into past forced adoption policies and practices, the Parliament of West Australia formally apologised for the Removal of Children from Unmarried Mothers.
The Premier of West Australia moved a motion in Parliament on Tuesday 19th October 2010 in relation to past adoption practices and apologised to the mothers, their children and families who were adversely affected by these past adoption practices, and expressed sympathy to those individuals whose interests were not best served by the policy of those times.
Senate Committee Affairs Reference Committee (2012) Report recommends Statements of Apology – 29 February 2012
Of the twenty recommendations made in the Senate Inquiry report (SCARC, 2012), seven were related to issuing statements of apology by governments at the national and state level as well as non-government institutions that administered adoptions. The committee recommended that:
“State and Territory governments and non-government institutions that administered adoptions should issue formal statements of apology that acknowledge practices that were illegal or unethical, as well as other practices that contributed to the harm suffered by many parents whose children were forcible removed and by the children who were separated from their parents.”
Following the release of the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee (2012) report in February 2012, other states and territories in Australia issued statements of apology, culminating in the National Apology for Forced Adoptions in March 2013.
South Australia – 18 July 2012
South Australia was the second state to issue a statement of apology to those affected by forced adoption. The apology was delivered by then Premier Jay Weatherill, followed by speeches by other parliamentarians.
Australian Capital Territory – 14 August 2012
The Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly acknowledged, that past practices of forced removal and adoption have caused great pain and suffering to mothers and their children, who are now adults and endorsed a formal apology, delivered by Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.
New South Wales – 20 September 2012
The following Apology for Forced Adoption Practices was adopted by both Houses of the Parliament of New South Wales on 20 September 2012:
- This House acknowledges the traumatic effects of the forced adoption practices of the past that have echoed through the lives of tens of thousands of mothers, fathers, people adopted as children and their families; and
- All Members of this House, with profound sadness and remorse, say to those living with the ongoing grief and pain of forced adoption practices, that we are sorry.
Tasmania – 18 October 2012
On 18 October 2012 the Premier of Tasmania delivered a formal apology on behalf of the Tasmanian community to mothers and fathers whose children were removed because of past forced adoption practices, and to people who were separated from their parents as infants as a result of those practices.
Victoria Apology – 25 October 2012
The Premier of Victoria issued a formal apology in the Victorian Parliament to the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who were profoundly harmed by past adoption practices in Victoria.
Queensland – 27 November 2012
On 27 November 2012, the Premier of Queensland made an historic apology for past forced adoption policies and practices in Parliament, on behalf of the Queensland Legislative Assembly.
National Apology for Forced Adoptions – 21 March 2013
As a response to the findings of the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Practices, on 21 March 2013, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologised on behalf of the Australian Government to people affected by forced adoption or removal policies and practices. The national apology was delivered in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra.
The VANISH booklet ‘Commemoration of State and National Apologies for Past and/or Forced Adoption Policies and Practices’ is available on request by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Apologies from Hospitals and Religious Institutions
A number of public bodies such as hospitals and religious institutions throughout Australia have also made public apologies for the wrongs that were perpetrated in the past. In Victoria, these include:
20 March 2013
Shelley Park, CEO, of Monash Health, Melbourne (on behalf of maternity hospitals now closed/merged such as the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, Prince Henry’s Hospital, Moorabbin Hospital)
“acknowledged that many past adoption practices, particularly when considered against today’s standards, were clearly misguided; often based on societal attitudes and pressures rather than the best interests of mother and child” and apologised “to every woman who felt she had no choice but to give up her baby”.
23 January 2012
Dale Fisher, CEO, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne apologised to relinquishing mothers and acknowledged
“past adoption practices caused lasting consequences for many relinquishing mothers, and sometimes also for their children and their extended families.
Isabel Thomas Dobson, Moderator Victorian and Tasmanian synod of the Uniting Church (united sections of the former Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist Churches) –
“On behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and our agencies, we apologise unreservedly for any physical, psychological or social harm that might have occurred through the past adoption practices and processes of the church”.
25 July 2011
Martin Laverty, CEO Catholic Health Australia issued a National Apology over past adoption practices that have been described as a
To find out if another hospital has issued an apology, check their website or contact VANISH.
Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants
The Australian Government formally apologised to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants at a special remembrance event in Canberra on 16 November 2009. The apology was an endorsement of Recommendation 1 from the ‘Forgotten Australians’ report of the Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care. See the full report here.
The Stolen Generations
The Stolen Generations are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were taken away from their families and communities as children as the result of past government policies. Children were removed by governments, churches and welfare bodies to be brought up in institutions, fostered out or adopted by white families. The removal of Aboriginal children took place from the early days of British colonisation in Australia. It broke important cultural, spiritual and family ties and has left a lasting and intergenerational impact on the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
On 17 September 1997, then Premier Jeff Kennett issued an apology in the Legislative Assembly to the Aboriginal people for the past policies leading to the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities.
On 13 February 2008, the Australian Government made an Apology to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, delivered by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The apology came about as a recommendation from The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal Children from their Families.
Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
On Monday 22 October 2018, then Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, delivered a national apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in the House of Representatives. The apology followed the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which was delivered to the Australian Government on 15 December 2017.
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