E & OE – Proof only
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I want to acknowledge my ministerial and parliamentary colleagues who are here with us today.
I also want to acknowledge Mr Andrew Murray, former Senator for Western Australia, who helped establish the Senate inquiry.
Today we gather to remember and reflect on a significant day in Australia’s history.
On this day last year, almost one thousand people from across the country gathered here at Parliament House to witness the official apology to the Forgotten Australians and former child migrants.
Thousands more watched the live broadcast all around Australia.
I was deeply honoured to be a part of that extraordinary day.
A day that finally acknowledged the abuse and neglect that many of you experienced as young children in institutional care and foster homes.
For many of you, childhood was a time of fear and loneliness.
For many of you, there was no love and no kindness in those dark, authoritarian institutions.
Last year the Australian Government said sorry to you on behalf of the nation for all these injustices.
Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost.
You experienced terrible hardships and abuse, things a child should never know.
And we recognised that you were in no way to blame for what happened.
Today I am pleased to be able to give you a commemorative wattle pin – which you will find on your tables. These pins are a small symbolic gesture to commemorate the first anniversary of last year’s apology. Wear them with pride.
Last year’s apology was your day – a day to remember.
I hope the apology went some way to help you start healing.
The Government is also working to provide practical support to help people reconnect with their lost families to help heal the legacy of the trauma and loneliness of lost childhoods.
We are committed to delivering on our promise at last year’s apology to support you with a number of new practical measures.
We are establishing an Australia-wide family tracing and support service for care leavers, with $26.5 million provided in this year’s budget.
The new national Find and Connect service will help care leavers locate their personal files, piece together their past and, where possible, reunite with family members.
We understand how important this new service will be for many of you.
As one care leaver told our consultants who helped us design the new service: “This is a human right, to know where you come from – it’s a national obligation to let us have access to our own history”.
Today I can tell you a bit more about how the new service will work.
In the coming weeks, we will advertise nationally for a service provider to operate the new service which will begin in April next year.
Forgotten Australians and former child migrants will be able to use a single website and a new 1800 number to locate their records – no matter where they live.
For the first time, care leavers will be able to access personal records and family tracing services in the state they live, regardless of which state they were in care.
For people that need a little more help, Find and Connect workers across the country will be able to give that support. These new workers will complement state and territory services for care leavers where they are available, as well as reaching new areas where they are currently no services.
We understand that tracing your family can be difficult and emotional. To give you extra support we are providing specialist counseling services to help.
Through the new service, we will also work closely with state and territory governments and past care providers to improve the indexing and availability of records so that you can access your histories.
We have listened carefully to what care leavers expect and need from this new service.
Many of you here today provided valuable input into the design of the new service and I would like to thank you for your contributions.
We know how important it is that we get it right.
As one care leaver told us - “The first call to the 1800 number has to work, people are deciding to ‘come out’, it’s a very difficult decision”.
We will continue to work closely with Forgotten Australians and former child migrants, to ensure that Find and Connect meets their needs, including through the Consultative Forum for Forgotten Australians and former Child Migrants.
I look forward to launching the Find and Connect service next year.
I hope it will go some way to helping you and other care leavers heal as you find out more about yourselves.
Here with us today we have Leonie Sheedy from CLAN, Harold Haig from the Child Migrants Trust and Caroline Carroll from the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.
These three, along with a number of others here today have been passionate advocates for Forgotten Australian and child migrants.
I’d like to invite Leonie, Harold and Caroline to each say a few words and share with you their experience of last year’s apology.
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