National Anniversary of the Apology 2021

By Terri Butler MP

12 February 2021

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we’re meeting, and I pay my respects to elders past and present. We are standing on land for which sovereignty was never ceded.

All Stolen Generations and their families, including anyone connected with the former Cranbrook House, a little to the west of here. I know that today we’re all thinking of the girls and young women who were taken there against their and their family’s will.  

The Link-Up (Qld) Board, and let me also once again acknowledge the late Uncle Sam Watson Snr who had such a vast influence over so many years.

Pat Thompson and her staff, who have led this organisation so well and have helped countless families to reunite.

My good friend Assistant Minister McCallum who I believe will be with you a little later this morning.

Cr Sri.

The Stolen Generations

Those of us old enough to do so remember the shame and shock that rippled out across the land when the Bringing them Home report was tabled in federal parliament on the 26th of May 1997.

The report came out of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, which Labor had established in government. At the time the Inquiry was launched the then Labor Minister Robert Tickner said 

"Put bluntly, the consequences of the former policy of taking children from their families was a human rights issue that would not, and will not, go away.”

And he drew the connection between this then new Inquiry and the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, saying that as 43 of the 99 people whose deaths had been investigated had experienced childhood separation from their natural families through intervention of State authorities, commissions or other institutions. 

He said he hoped the inquiry would, among other things, educate non-Indigenous Australians, who he thought would be surprised to learn of the extent and recency of the separations.

And as I said, when the final report was tabled, the response was shame, and shock. 

So it is fitting that the report and the trauma inflicted on the Stolen Generations be acknowledged every year on National Sorry Day, as we will do in May. 

And it was important that the Prime Minister give an apology on behalf of the nation to the Stolen Generations. 

That did not happen immediately. Those of us old enough to remember will know that it took many years and the election of a Labor government before the Apology was given. On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, publicly apologised, on behalf of the Federal Government, to the Stolen Generations.

Tomorrow marks the 13th anniversary of the National Apology.

The Anniversary is an important day on the calendar each year.

It’s a day to remember the grief, suffering and injustice experienced by the Stolen Generations, and not only as a matter of history, but also as an ongoing suffering because the trauma that was caused is intergenerational.


And the Anniversary of the Apology is a day of recognition. It’s a day to acknowledge the resilience and strength of the Stolen Generations and their families. 

The effects of the trauma from the forcible breaking up of families are still making themselves known. And there have been other hard and distressing problems too. Black lives matter and the campaign against deaths in custody. Over-incarceration. Missing and murdered women. Racism. There are so many matters demanding your attention in the ongoing work towards justice. The resilience and strength of the Stolen Generations and all indigenous people in the face of those struggles are an example to everyone. 

The Anniversary of the Apology is also a day to listen to people to better understand what they need in order to heal. It’s a day to understand that the effects of trauma are manifesting in multiple ways and that we all have an obligation to act with compassion and acknowledgement. I remain hopeful that we will have more opportunities to listen once there is a formal indigenous Voice to parliament, enshrined in the constitution.


And finally I want to observe that the Anniversary of the National Apology is a day of gratitude. We are grateful to all of those who have sought justice and healing. We are grateful to Link-UP (Qld) and all similar organisation for the challenging, personal and caring work they do day in, day out, to reunite families, even if that can only be done at the graveside. 

Thank you for the work you have done and the work that you are continuing to do. You, too, are an example to everyone in your perseverance and compassion.