Sorry, but Kevin and Malcolm pulled it off
Well done to both Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, who this morning made excellent speeches in Parliament’s Great Hall, to representatives of the Forgotten Generation – survivors of institutional care, many removed from families in the UK in the post-war years and sent to Australia.
Turnbull was emotional, having to stop several times. Rudd was calmer, but no less stirring. Both spoke of the pain of separation, of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by children in institutions, of how their cries for help were ignored and disbelieved for so long, in a way that even now should fill us with shame and anguish. Both men recounted anecdotes, of both agony and hope. Both said sorry, repeatedly, and thanked the survivors, and their representatives, those who have worked tirelessly on their behalf, for enduring and refusing to be silenced.
The content of the speeches, though, wasn’t the real point. As soon as the Prime Minister rose to speak, one man near me began sobbing, nearly uncontrollably. It was, perhaps, the mere fact that acknowledgement was finally being made, that the apology would be offered, that was important, not the specific words. The words were good, they were comforting and reassuring and even uplifting, but it was the spirit of recognition behind them that mattered, for hundreds of thousands of people who for years – decades -- had not been able to speak out, or who were ignored or even abused when they did, even disbelieved when they related the abuse suffered at the hands of those charged with caring for them.
Jenny Macklin was behind the Government’s decision to make the apology, following the work of a number of other MPs and Senators, most especially former Senator Andrew Murray, who was present today and singled out for thanks by the Prime Minister.
As with the Stolen Generations apology, though, the apology came with a warning, that Governments should ensure that it never happen again. Families will always break down. Children will always need to be removed from dysfunctional environments. The pain of separation will continue to be felt by children. Whether governments --- all governments, or whatever stripe -- are doing their best to protect those who must be removed remains an uncertain and painful question.
But, for once, let’s acknowledge an unmitigated good on the part of our political leaders, men and women who have heard the voices of those who have suffered, who understood their pain and realised that a simple apology could help the healing of those who suffered at the hands of people charged with the most important duty of all.