The NSW Government’s commitment to provide reparations for the Stolen Generations is a major victory. Greens NSW MLC Jan Barham drove the outcome by pushing for, and then chairing a Parliamentary Inquiry into reparations. It delivers on a long-held commitment from the Greens.
The Bringing Them Home report into the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children shocked the nation when it was released in 1997. In that same year New South Wales became the first state to deliver an apology to the Stolen Generations and an action plan in response to the report. That was 11 years before Kevin Rudd delivered the national apology in 2008.
But almost 20 years after Bringing Them Home, federal and state governments had still not delivered on the report’s recommendations for reparations to address the harms caused to Aboriginal children and communities. These recommendations were for not only acknowledgment and apology, but guarantees against repetition, measures of restitution and rehabilitation, and monetary compensation.
It was against this backdrop that Greens NSW MLC Jan Barham moved for the establishment of an inquiry into reparations for victims of the Stolen Generations. “I was astonished about the lack of action in response to previous reports,” Jan said.
The Inquiry was established in 2015, with Jan as the Chair. It heard from survivors of the Stolen Generations about how their experiences affected them and what reparations could mean to them. “We consistently heard that people felt they hadn’t been listened to and hadn’t been given a voice. We heard about the need for collective healing, that they are the only people who really understand what they’ve experienced, and that they need to heal together,” Jan said.
“Our committee received 52 submissions and we travelled across the state. The first visit was to the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls' Training Home, and we then visited Kinchela Boys Home and the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children's Home. We were honoured to walk with the aunties and uncles, and to hear about their experiences. It was heartbreaking. We also went to Grafton, Walgett, Wagga Wagga, Kempsey, Broken Hill and Nowra, and held hearings in Sydney.”
It was therefore a major milestone when earlier this month the NSW Government delivered its response to Unfinished Business, the report from the Inquiry into Reparations for the Stolen Generations, announcing it would implement almost all of the 35 recommendations and establish a financial reparations scheme and other initiatives with total funding of more than $73 million.
Jan welcomed the strong commitment to reparations as a significant, even if long overdue, step. “Our recommendations will improve the health and wellbeing of Stolen Generations. When we tabled the report in June I called on the Government to respond quickly, because many of those affected are aged. Given that it’s been two decades since reparations were first considered, it’s significant that the NSW Government will now move to implement the initiatives we recommended.”
The report, which featured a specially commissioned Aboriginal artwork on the cover, delivered recommendations that were unanimously supported by the members of the multi-party committee – Green, Liberal, Labor, National and Christian Democrat.
Recommendations to be implemented
The NSW Government’s response indicates that it will begin implementing almost all of these recommendations, including the key recommendation to establish an administrative based reparations scheme, where eligible Stolen Generations survivors can apply for a monetary payment, similar to schemes that have been provided in South Australia and Tasmania.
Other recommendations the Government will act on include:
- the establishment of a Stolen Generations Advisory Committee to give survivors a greater voice and input into
decisions and policies that affect them,
- individual and collective healing initiatives,
- the establishment of memorials,
- an educational scholarship scheme,
- culturally appropriate aged care services for survivors,
- improved access to personal records, and
- additional funding for family reunions.
A welcome outcome
The outcome has been welcomed, with an understandable degree of caution about ensuring the outcomes are realised, by key stakeholders involved in Aboriginal issues and advocacy for the Stolen Generations, including Link-Up NSW, the NSW Reconciliation Council, NSW Aboriginal Land Council and Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care Secretariat (AbSec).
With the consultation and implementation process set to begin early in 2017, Jan notes that we have a collective responsibility to work to address disadvantage and discrimination, and to support and empower Aboriginal people and communities as we make amends for historical injustices.
“I urge everyone to take the time to read the Unfinished Business report and go back to read Bringing Them Home, to understand this shameful part of our history and why it’s so important that we make amends. The removal of Aboriginal children from their families, communities and country resulted in a loss of identity and culture. There are still shocking numbers of children being removed from their families, and that is a pain they all feel. Their loss of identity and connection and their experiences have left them troubled and their health has suffered.
“We can’t change the past but if we all work to understand and address the intergenerational harm that has been caused, we can change the future and improve Aboriginal lives.”