Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's speech in Parliament today was one of those very rare occasions where we could witness history in the making. It was a moving speech, a speech of sorrow and hope. It was a wonderful start to a new parliamentary year. Following the apology, Rudd also recounted some of the stories members of the stolen generation had told him over recent days.
I am so pleased that Australia has finally come to this point of reflection on the past. Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard wanted to make Australia a country that would only celebrate its proud history and forget about any wrongdoings. However, no country can move into the future without accepting and taking responsibility for both the good and the bad things that have happened in the past. In fact, bad things continue to happen to many Aboriginal people in this country today. The truth has to be acknowledged. Everything else is propaganda. Today is the day that we can hold our heads high and be proud of this country. The standing ovation Rudd received from the gallery and from the other Members of Parliament reflected the mood of the country and was well deserved. I hope it is a sign of things to come.
This is the text of Rudd's speech:
Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.
It would have been hard for anybody to match this speech, and Opposition leader Brendon Nelson would have been well advised to keep his own speech short and in support of the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister. Nelson was in the unenviable position that he had come to be the Opposition leader because he had been opposed to an apology. Now he found himself saying sorry and having to bring his Liberal crew along. As a result, the speech was somewhat muddled. He did say the word "sorry". That was the main and most important aspect of his speech. Nevertheless, I felt disappointed by Nelson's speech.
And it seems that many Australians felt the same way. In Canberra and Melbourne, where many had gathered in front of large screens broadcasting live from Parliament, large numbers of people booed and turned their backs when Brendon Nelson started to veer off the track in his speech. What a shame. What a wasted opportunity for the Liberal Party.
At least, Kevin Rudd's motion to formerly apologise for the stolen generation found overwhelming bipartisan support. I did not see any dissenters but apparently, according to the news, a small number of Liberal Party members did not find the strength to acknowledge past wrongdoings and had stayed away.
The bipartisan support in turn gave rise to spontaneous applause from the gallery and from the many people assembled outside. It was a historic moment indeed.