The Forgotten Australians,speech, December 2, 2014

I begin by commending the member for Swan for bringing this motion to the House, and I full well remember his very important speech five years ago to this chamber. So I would like to begin by acknowledging that it has been five years since the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered a national apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants. Around half a million people were affected by this terrible chapter of Australian history—people who, as children, were separated from their families, raised in institutions and deprived of love, of basic health care, of educational opportunities, and of a sense of security and self worth. So many of them suffered much worse than deprivation; they were physically, sexually and emotionally abused. The national apology did not and never could completely heal the deep and longstanding wounds of the forgotten Australians, but hopefully it began a slow process of ensuring that they would no longer be forgotten.

 I want to acknowledge both Kevin Rudd and my colleague Jenny Macklin as minister for family and community services for initiating and delivering this important apology. In so doing, they not only validated the hurt suffered by forgotten Australians but also helped to ensure that the thousands of heartbreaking stories could be told publicly and understood just a little better. They were told on television, in newspapers, in museums and travelling exhibitions, in community halls, within families and neighbourhoods and to service providers who help make current lives possible and more bearable.              


One of these thousands of stories belongs to a very special lady who lives in my electorate: Wendy Dyckhoff. I have mentioned Wendy in this place before, because she has worked enormously hard to deal with the impact of her childhood trauma and focus on helping others in the community. Wendy, along with her friends, Karen Barrett, who also lives in Broadmeadows, and Gabi Rose from Queensland, are constantly active in fighting for the rights of other forgotten Australians. As well as furthering her own education, for which she has won several awards, Wendy devotes her energies to advocating: educating political representatives, service providers, teachers and others about the realities of the daily life struggles of forgotten Australians. However, she is constantly frustrated by the regular confusion between the stolen generations and the forgotten Australians, and is vigilant in educating people about the difference. Deputy Speaker, you will know Kangan TAFE very well. The library staff at Kangan TAFE very quickly discovered their mistake when Wendy found a video about forgotten Australians shelved in the 'Indigenous history' section. Of course, many Indigenous children were also forgotten Australians, but many forgotten Australians are not Indigenous Australians.              

'What happened to the stolen children and their families is terrible, but it is another chapter in Australian history—we have our own terrible and important chapter and we also need to be understood,' Wendy says time and time again. Wendy supports people in very practical ways by helping to find family records and contacting long-lost relatives. She has told her own story many times—to parliamentary inquiries, the royal commission, the National Museum of Australia and public meetings. She encourages and supports others to do the same, as she knows that sharing these life stories, however painful, is vital if the broader community is to understand our forgotten Australian history and its ongoing impact.              

Wendy works with a range of local service providers to make sure they understand the special needs of forgotten Australians. Their experiences can affect their ability to locate identity documents and to deal with officials and agencies in the first place. While Wendy herself is now used to telling her story repeatedly, she knows the anguish it can bring to have to explain such painful details again and again to different service providers. Her work with some of the excellent local staff of the Department of Human Services has resulted in a more sensitive approach to forgotten Australian clients.              

I am grateful to Wendy Dyckhoff for giving me an insight into the lives and struggles of the forgotten Australians living in my electorate. I know that Wendy has many friends and colleagues in her networks throughout the country who are similarly engaged in this important advocacy work. These networks were strengthened by the national apology in 2009.              

There are some who might dismiss such prime ministerial statements as tokenistic and abstract, but I would say to those people that a formal acknowledgement of injustice and an apology are very real and practical steps towards healing and reconciliation not just for those who suffered but for the health and coherence of our whole nation. I commend this motion to the House.