February 12, 2018

SUBJECT/S:  The National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

JACINTA PARSONS: The Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, Jenny Macklin was a big part of that Apology, she was the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in that first Rudd Government and she has written an essay for Meanjin about what went on behind closed doors in the lead up to that day ten years ago. Good morning Jenny.


PARSONS: Why was it important for you to lift the lid on what happened behind the scenes of that Apology ten years ago?

MACKLIN: As you can imagine it meant a lot to me as well, I got to know so many people who had been affected, who had been stolen themselves, I had to make sure all the practical things got done that day to make sure that it was a success, especially for the Stolen Generations. But also for all other Indigenous peoples in Australia, because for the first time Kevin Rudd was both saying sorry to members of the Stolen Generations but also saying to other Indigenous Australians that we are sorry for all of the terrible wrongs that have been done in the past to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

SHAH: Looking back on the history of it, one of the things it seems fairly evident that large parts of the Opposition for example were against Kevin Rudd doing so, but the amazing thing that you revealed in your essay is how parts of the Labor frontbench also thought it was a bad idea for him to go ahead with this.

MACKLIN: There certainly was, and I didn’t actually know this at the time but afterwards found out that there had been opposition, not just in the Government but I think in the bureaucracy as well, but fortunately I didn’t know that at the time and I was able to get on with the job of all the organisational things that needed to be done to make the day work.

PARSONS: The Apology was graciously accepted by the Indigenous people.


PARSONS: And the many families that were affected. You had to get the Apology right. What made the Apology feel like it meant something?

MACKLIN: I think a few things, if I can just reinforce the point that you make. The first is the way in which the Apology was graciously accepted and on the day so many people were in Parliament House with black t-shirts on saying ‘sorry’ and the other word that they had on their t-shirt was ‘thanks’, and it was an incredibly powerful way that Aboriginal people said that they accepted the Apology as it was given. I think the reason that that was the case, the campaign that had been run by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups for the ten years before the Apology had really driven momentum and so many of the Stolen Generations groups and Reconciliation Australia and others had really led that campaign. We also did a lot of consultation with the Stolen Generations groups, particularly before Kevin Rudd spoke, to make sure we heard what they wanted to say.

SHAH: Now knowing what you know about the opposition would you have at the time, had that been made clear to you, would you have proceeded anyway?

MACKLIN: It was absolutely imperative that we honour the commitment we had made to say sorry and it was that critical word ‘sorry’ that people wanted to hear. As Lowitja O’Donoghue said to me immediately after the 2007 election, we don’t want any statements of regret, we want to hear a proper apology, we want Kevin Rudd to say sorry and that’s exactly what he did.

PARSONS: The Closing the Gap initiative was essential to The Apology having meaning, that the Government couldn’t just say sorry it had to mean it through real action and real targets. Ten years on we haven’t really met those targets. The number of Indigenous children being taken from their parents continues to rise. Does this risk retrospectively making the Apology empty? If we haven’t fundamentally changed the experience for Indigenous Australians.

MACKLIN: I think there are two things. One I think it is a shocking thing that the number of children being taken continues to rise and you might have seen in the media this morning that Bill Shorten has announced that in government we would have a major summit to bring all the different interest groups together to really listen to the Indigenous leadership about what we need to do to address what still is far too many children being removed from their families. I see in the media this morning that a couple of the other Closing the Gap targets back on track, which is very good news, particularly the efforts to close the gap on infant mortality is back on track. And that’s very important if Aboriginal people are to have the same right as the rest of us to live a long and healthy life, of course it’s critical that they have those early years of life in good health.

PARSONS: Jenny Macklin thank you so much for joining us this morning.

MACKLIN: My pleasure.

PARSONS: Jenny Macklin the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services reflecting on The Apology and she’s written an essay that’s part of Meanjin that you can read.

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