Help for 500,000 to find lost families
Sydney Morning Herald
THE Government will set up a national service to help the forgotten Australians find their families and launch projects to record and preserve their stories, the Prime Minister said.
Kevin Rudd announced the plan yesterday as he apologised to more than 500,000 Australians who were raised in church or state care.
He said a ''find and connect service'' would help people locate their personal and family history files, through a searchable national database that would collate and index existing state records.
The resources of the National Library and the National Museum of Australia will be deployed to provide future generations with a reminder of the ''ugly chapter'' of the nation's history. ''This can assist the nation to learn from your experiences … to ensure not only that your experiences are heard, but also that they will never ever be forgotten,'' Mr Rudd said.
He said the Government would also identify ''care leavers'' as a special needs group for aged-care purposes. This means aged-care providers will receive assistance to provide appropriate care, including counselling and support services, to people who have been separated from their families.
The announcements yesterday will form part of a comprehensive government response to three Senate inquiries on the issue, which is expected to be tabled in coming days.
But despite the calls of some in the audience for the national apology yesterday, the Government has ruled out compensation, arguing it is the responsibility of state governments, the churches and the charities that provided care.
Mr Rudd said he hoped the apology would become ''a turning point in out nation's story, a turning point for shattered lives''.
''A turning point for governments at all levels and of every political hue and colour to do all in our power to never let this happen again,'' he said. Mr Turnbull echoed Mr Rudd's call.
''Those homes are long closed and they will never reopen,'' Mr Turnbull said. ''But when we hear a child scream in pain in the next apartment, or we see a little boy at school with bruises, or a little girl who seems sleepless and withdrawn - do we say: it's none of our business?
''Let us resolve that here today we will be forever vigilant in the protection of our nation's children - our children, your children, all of Australia's children.''
The Opposition's spokesman on families, Tony Abbott, said the apology was no grounds for ''self-congratulation''.
''There are as many children in care as ever,'' he said. ''Today, thankfully, little of it is institutionalised care, but that does not mean that every child's needs are being fully met.
''Today … should be an occasion to renew our commitment to all children in care. We can never do enough for them, but we should always be looking for ways to do more.''
The Liberal MP Steve Irons, a former state ward in Victoria, said ''we must not forget reparation''.
''I call on the governments, churches and charities to deal with this now, not later,'' he said. ''We can now only be judged as a nation by our ability to repair and rebuild these Australian lives, because we have failed these children in the construction of them.''
A former Democrats senator, Andrew Murray, who was a child migrant, said the apology would restore a sense of self-worth to people who had been separated from their families and give them a sense of belonging in the Australian community. ''One of the worst things is that their plight was not known, their suffering was hidden and that they were never believed as children and never treated with respect.''
The president and co-founder of the Care Leavers Australia Network, Leonie Sheedy, who has worked for the apology for almost a decade, said she was ''overwhelmed''.
''The Government worked hard to get it right,'' she said.