Australian Prime Minsiter Kevin Rudd on Monday apologised to thousands of British child migrants transported to the country over centuries for their physical suffering, emotional starvation and the cold absence of love and tenderness during their forced care.
“Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where often you were abused,” Mr. Rudd said, according to an ABC report.
Hundreds of people, many of them “Forgotten Australians”, had gathered in Parliament’s Great Hall in Canberra to hear both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull extending the apology.
The “Forgotten Australians” included the half a million children raised in institutions, orphanages and foster care homes through the last century and also about 7,000 child migrants. Many suffered ill-treatment and some sexual abuse.
Mr. Rudd said Australia was “sorry for the physical suffering, emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.
He said that part of Australia’s history was filled with shame.
“As a nation we must now reflect on those who did not receive proper care.
“We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and nobody, absolutely nobody, to whom to turn,” he said.
Mr. Rudd acknowledged the pain of children shipped to Australia as migrants.
“Robbed of your families, robbed of your homeland, regarded not as innocent children, but regarded instead as a source of child labour.
“To those of you who were told you were orphans, brought here without your parents’ knowledge or consent, we acknowledge the lies you were told, the lies told to your mothers, fathers and the pain these lies have caused for a lifetime,” The Australian PM said.
“And for this we are deeply sorry,” Mr. Rudd added.
He also touched on the families left behind.
“We thank them for the faith, the love and the depth of commitment that has helped see you through the valley of tears that was not of your own making.
Mr. Rudd then turned to those who had suicided.
“We recognise the pain you have suffered. Pain is so profoundly disabling so let us together as a nation allow this apology to begin to heal this pain.
Mr. Rudd said the apology represented a turning point for “shattered lives” and the nation’s political leadership.
“For governments at all levels of every political hue and colour to do all in our power to never allow this to happen again,” he said. The protection of children was the “sacred duty of us all”.
Mr. Rudd warned that a disservice would be done to victims of abuse if it was sought to gloss things over.
“Because the truth is great evil has been done,” he added.
Families Minister Jenny Macklin said the bi-partisan apology will be an emotional and significant event and it demonstrates the shared resolve to make sure the abuse and neglect never happens again.
“It’s all about us as Australians coming together to recognise the terrible wrongs of the past that were done to so many children who lived in institutions, in orphanages, in foster homes — children who were treated so badly,” she said adding this is a time for us to be able to say to them that what was done was wrong.
Dayne Chamley, who has worked with such children over the years, said this may not be the final chapter for ‘Forgotten Australians’.
“Well, that’s up to the ‘Forgotten Australians’ and the child migrants to decide. I would have hoped that there would be some form of reparation,” he said.
“Broken Rites has argued for a long time that we should as a nation go down the road of what Ireland did of have a royal commission, to find out what actually went on and what have we got to have in place to make sure it never happens again.
“Realise we’ve still got 30,000-odd kids in out of home care today.
“And also then to bring the past providers to account, be they state governments or churches or charities, bring them to account as Ireland did and set up a trust and one by one, work out what the needs of these people are.