National Sorry Day
National Sorry Day is an annual event that has been held in Australia on 26 May, since 1997, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent's indigenous population. During the 20th century, the Australian government's policies resulted in a "Stolen Generation"—i.e., "Aboriginal children separated, often forcibly, from their families in the interest of turning them into white Australians".
26 May carries great significance for the Stolen Generations, as well as for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and non-indigenous Australians. On 26 May 1997, the "Bringing Them Home" report was tabled in Parliament.
The annual National Sorry Day commemorations remind and raise awareness among politicians, policy makers, and the wider public about the significance of the forcible removal policies and their impact on the children that were taken, but also on their families and communities.
2008 Federal Government Apology to the Stolen Generation
The 1997 Bringing Them Home report recommended that the Prime Minister apologise to the Stolen Generations. Prime Minister John Howard refused to do so, stating that he "did not subscribe to the black armband view of history".
On Thursday 26 August 1999, Prime Minister Howard moved a Motion of Reconciliation, which included an expression of "deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices". The opposition leader Kim Beazley moved to replace Howard's motion of regret with an unreserved apology, but was unsuccessful.
In response, a popular movement evolved to celebrate "sorry day" in the absence of formal political recognition from the conservative government.
On 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved a motion of Apology to the Indigenous Australian "Stolen Generation", a group who in past decades had been removed from their birth parents and placed in foster care under government-sanctioned policy. The apology was the new parliament's first order of business; Kevin Rudd became the first Australian Prime Minister to publicly apologize to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian federal government. Tom Calma AO, then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission, delivered the formal response to the apology.
The 13 February 2008 parliamentary apology read as follows:
That 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.
- Torpey, John C. (2006). Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780674019430.
- McKenna, Dr Mark (10 November 1997). "Different Perspectives on Black Armband History". Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 2 November 2006.
- "House of representatives Hansard Thursday 26 August 1999" (PDF). Parliament of Australia Hansard. 26 August 1999. p. 152. Retrieved 4 November 2006.
- "Official Australian Government Website – Sorry Day and the Stolen Generation". Australian Government. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- Calma, Tom. "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission". Australian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 1 April 2012.