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The National Apology
  • Last updated:
  • 21 Jul 2022

On 13 February 2008, the Parliament of Australia issued a formal apology to First Nations Australians for forced removal of their children from their families by Australian federal and state government agencies.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered The National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

Removal of First Nations children under child welfare legislation

“New South Wales was the first jurisdiction to reshape its [First Nations] child welfare system according to the assimilationist welfare model. After 1940 the removal of [First Nations] children was governed by the general child welfare law, although once removed [First Nations] children were treated differently from non-[First Nations] children. State government institutions and missions in which removed [First Nations] children were placed received a financial boost after 1941 with the extension of Commonwealth child endowment to Aboriginal children. The endowment was paid to them rather than to the parents.” (Bringing them Home – Chapter 2)

“Under the general child welfare law, [First Nations] children had to be found to be `neglected', `destitute' or `uncontrollable'. These terms were applied by courts much more readily to Indigenous children than non-[First Nations] children as the definitions and interpretations of those terms assumed a non-[First Nations] model of child-rearing and regarded poverty as synonymous with neglect. It was not until 1966 that all eligibility restrictions on [First Nations] people's receipt of social security benefits were fully lifted. Before that time [First Nations] families in need could not rely on the financial support of government which was designed to hold non-[First Nations] families together in times of need. Moreover, ongoing surveillance of their lives meant that any deviation from the acceptable non-[First Nations] `norm' came to the notice of the authorities immediately.” (Bringing them Home – Chapter 2)

“From the late 1940s the other jurisdictions followed New South Wales in applying the general child welfare law to [First Nations] children while still treating removed [First Nations] children differently. State government child welfare practice was marked more by continuity than change. The same welfare staff and the same police who had previously removed children from their families simply because they were Aboriginal now utilised the neglect procedures to remove just as many Aboriginal children from their families. `Aboriginal parents were left on the margins of Australian society while attempts were made to absorb their children into non-Aboriginal society' (Armitage 1995 page 67).” (Bringing them Home – Chapter 2)

“Every morning our people would crush charcoal and mix that with animal fat and smother that all over us, so that when the police came they could only see black children in the distance. We were told always to be on the alert and, if white people came, to run into the bush or run and stand behind the trees as stiff as a poker, or else hide behind logs or run into culverts and hide. Often the white people - we didn't know who they were - would come into our camps. And if the Aboriginal group was taken unawares, they would stuff us into flour bags and pretend we weren't there. We were told not to sneeze. We knew if we sneezed and they knew that we were in there bundled up, we'd be taken off and away from the area".

"There was a disruption of our cycle of life because we were continually scared to be ourselves. During the raids on the camps it was not unusual for people to be shot - shot in the arm or the leg. You can understand the terror that we lived in, the fright - not knowing when someone will come unawares and do whatever they were doing - either disrupting our family life, camp life, or shooting at us.” (Confidential evidence 681, Western Australia: woman ultimately surrendered at 5 years to Mt Margaret Mission for schooling in the 1930s)"
. (Bringing them Home – Chapter 2)

The Bringing them Home Report (Recommendations 5a & 5b) suggested that all Australian Parliaments and State and Territory police forces acknowledge responsibility for past laws, policies and practices of forcible removal and that on behalf of their predecessors officially apologise to First Nations individuals, families and communities.

More information

Customer enquiries relating to the region’s Traditional Custodians, council’s Reconciliation Action Plan or other First Nations projects supported by council, can be emailed to the First Nations Partnerships team.