Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples

The National Apology to the Stolen Generations came about as a recommendation from The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal Children from their Families. It highlighted the suffering of Indigenous families under the Commonwealth, state and territory Aboriginal protection and welfare laws and policies.

The National Inquiry then led to the Bringing them home report which was tabled in Parliament on 26 May 1997. It contained 54 Recommendations on how to redress the wrongs done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by the race-based laws and policies of successive governments throughout Australia.

Recommendations 5a and 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 apologies to Indigenous individuals, families and communities.

The National Apology, 13 February 2008

After winning the election in 2007 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd began consulting with Indigenous Australians about the form an apology should take. In the spirit of the new commitment to Indigenous affairs, a Welcome to Country ceremony was held at the opening Parliament. This was the first time that such a ceremony was held.

Matilda House, Ngambri Elder, welcomed visitors to country and dancers from around Australia and the Torres Strait Islands took part in the ceremony. A message stick was presented to the Prime Minister by Matilda’s grandchildren as a tangible symbol of the ceremony. Message sticks were a ‘means of communication used by our peoples for thousands of years. They tell the story of our coming together,’ said Matilda.

Members of the Stolen Generations were invited to hear the National Apology first-hand in the gallery of The House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House in Canberra. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd delivered the Apology at 9.00am on 13 February 2008.

Crowds of people across Australia watched the Apology on big screens in their own cities and towns. Photographic and video records of those witnessing the Apology show sombre and reflective faces as the Prime Minister spoke of the wrongs governments had inflicted on Indigenous peoples across Australia and a huge wave of tears, relief and applause flowed when he finished speaking.

People gathered to watch The Apology at Federation Square in Melbourne
People gathered to watch The Apology at Federation Square in Melbourne

Following the Apology, Lorraine Peeters, a member of the Stolen Generations, presented the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition with a glass coolamon, made by Bai Bai Napangardi, a Balgo artist. Inside the coolamon was a message thanking the Parliament for saying ‘sorry’ – that the Apology showed compassion and opened a path for walking together in the future. The Speaker of the House, Harry Jenkins, accepted the coolamon.

Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, was asked by the Stolen Generations Alliance and the National Sorry Day Committee to respond to the Apology.

In the Members’ Hall, Mr Calma thanked the Parliament for acknowledging and paying respect to the Stolen Generations, saying that the foundations for healing to take place had now begun. He noted that there were many recommendations in the Bringing them home report that have not been implemented.

The Prime Minister’s annual Closing the Gap statement

In his Apology to Australia’s Indigenous people’s the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made the following statement regarding closing the gaps in the social inequalities faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:

This new partnership on closing the gap will set concrete targets for the future: within a decade to halve the widening gap in literacy, numeracy and employment outcomes and opportunities for Indigenous children, within a decade to halve the appalling gap in infant mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and, within a generation, to close the equally appalling 17-year life gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous when it comes when it comes to overall life expectancy.

Each year since the National Apology, the Prime Minster has delivered a Closing the Gap Statement in Parliament and tabled a report on the progress:

Resources

Australian Parliamentary Debates

Following the Apology, Members of Parliament and Senators made statements about and debated the Apology.  You can search the House of Representatives Hansard or the Senate Hansard for the following dates to read the debates on the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.

  • House of Representatives:  Wednesday, 13 February 2008 (includes balance for Tuesday, 12 February) : Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples -- Thursday, 14 February 2008 -- Monday, 18 February 2008 -- Tuesday 19 February 2008 -- Wednesday 20th February 2008
  • Senate: Wednesday, 13 February 2008 – 14 February 2008

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Websites and factsheets

Last reviewed: 8 Feb 2017