National Apology for Forced Adoptions
21st March, 2018
Today (Wednesday, 21 March) we commemorated the 5th anniversary of the National Apology for Forced Adoptions at Riverside Reception Centre, New Farm. The event was organised by Jigsaw Queensland, in association with ALAS, Association for Adoptees and Origins Qld.
It was a significant milestone and was marked by a taped reflection by Hon. Julia Gillard AC, and speeches by Trish Large (ALAS), Kerri Saint and Judy Glover (Association for Adoptees), Colleen Bernard (Origins Qld), Heather Herman and Trevor Jordan (Jigsaw Qld) and Guest Speaker, Professor Nahum Mushin (Former Chair of the Forced Adoption Implementation Group).
The event also included a moving exhibition of objects from people affected by adoption.
The video reflection from Hon. Julia Gillard AC is below:
Below are excerpts from Professor Nahum Mushin's speech which revisted events leading up to the historic apology made on 21 March 2013, the day itself and finally, looking at what may lie ahead..
The Senate Committee on Community References conducted its
enquiry into Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practice over a
period of approximately eighteen months and tabled its report on
29th February 2012. I have often spoken of the extraordinary work of
that committee and particularly senators Rachel Siewert, Clair Moore
and Sue Boyce. I read their extraordinary report about six weeks after
it was tabled and coincidentally, only 24 hours before I received a
telephone call from a senior member of the Attorney-General's
Department asking if I would permit my name to be considered for
appointment as chair of the Forced Adoptions Apology Reference
Group. I was honoured to accept the Attorney-General's invitation to
take up that position about six weeks later. The Reference Group
consisted of several mothers, adoptees, a father and the three
senators and a member of the House of Representatives referred to
earlier. Our first task was to consider the language which we should
use in the apology. We readily adopted the language of the Senate committee in recognising that the person who gave birth to the child is the child's mother and that no adjective should precede that word. Similarly for father. [...]
When I first read the report there was one concept which jumped out at me: these practices are illegal! The law has been breached in the most egregious ways. That led me to the conclusion that any apology would be grossly inadequate if it did not include the word "illegal". It was a word over which I was prepared to go to the barricades. I was concerned that the Government's lawyers would reject it as being an admission of liability leading to compensation. I will return to that later. Fortunately my concerns were assuaged. it clearly represented the views of all those who gave evidence to the Senate committee and who consulted with me. It was the unanimous view of the Reference Group. Most importantly, the government accepted that the word "illegal" should be included in the apology and so it was. I was moved by the way in which it was received.
I now turn to the day itself. I have watched former Prime Minister Gillard's speech on many occasions, most recently just a few days ago. It represents one of the outstanding moments of Australian history which must never be forgotten. That, together with the way in which people came together in grief and in hope stands as one of my most vivid memories. It was a profound pity and outrage that on the same day a member of the government chose to initiate the political challenge to the Prime Minister, thereby depriving the apology of its much needed attention and publicity on the day. I expressed my outrage to Mr Crean in a very strongly worded email written that night. I told him that I though he owed everyone affected by forced adoptions a profound apology. I received no response. [...]
Shortly after the apology I was honoured to accept the government's invitation of appointment to chair the forced adoptions implementation working group which had very similar membership to the apology reference group. That group was charged with the responsibility of advising the Government on implementation of the concrete measures. [...] The support services that have been conducted through Forced Adoption Support Services (FASS) - The work of organisations such as Jigsaw Qld and like bodies throughout Australia has been an inspiration and has generally been warmly welcomed by users of those services. In particular, in Queensland in each period of six months FASS, which is managed by Jigsaw Qld, averaged 250 clients and 1200 contact sessions which represents 42 per cent of the client load. It is very positive that the government has continued funding for a further four years ending in 2021. The services have been reviewed, but to date there has been no publication of the results of that review. The contract for the implementation of education and training services for mental health professionals was awarded to the Australian Psychological Society. I was privileged to consult to the Society on their work, which I regard as being of the highest quality. They implemented three different training courses, all to be undertaken online. To date 2678 mental health professionals have undertaken one or other of the courses which, in my view, is very heartening. [...]
So what of the future? Funding for the various services provided by the Department of Social Services appears to be secure, at least for the next few years. Mental health professionals have availed themselves of training resources in larger numbers than expected. Peer group support continues its excellent work throughout the country. However, there remains considerable unfinished business.
The crucial issue of integrated birth certificates remains unresolved. While most States understand the need to produce some form of a historical document containing all the relevant information, there is some reticence to create a satisfactory legal identity document. Part of that stems from the different views of precisely what that document should be. There has been some slow progress on allowing adopted individuals to apply for a discharge of their adoption but arising out of the divergence of opinions it may be necessary to have alternate means of satisfying these demands.
To my mind there are three particularly demanding issues which require resolution. The first of them arises out of the word "illegal" in the apology to which I referred earlier. Tens of thousands of people in our community have been significantly adversely affected by forced adoption. That effect is multidimensional and intergenerational. As we know all too well, the consequences on physical and mental health have, all too often, been disastrous. If people act illegally they are usually required to compensate somebody who has been adversely affected by those actions. Shouldn't the same proposition apply to those institutions which behaved illegally in the area of forced adoptions? It is time that that issue be seriously considered by the community.
The second fundamental issue is one which was recommended by the Reference Group but rejected by the Government. In order to give the issue of forced adoption a higher profile in the public domain and afford it a proper place in the nation's history, there should be an annual commemoration by way of Forced Adoptions Day. At least part of the reason for rejection was that 21 March is already Harmony Day. That, in my view, is an inadequate basis for rejection of the concept. The third fundamental issue is a matter on which I have spoken on many occasions. That is the question of the whole future of adoption. First, if we're going to have adoption it needs to be National rather than state-by-state. It is intolerable that in a democracy as advanced as Australia's we should have such a fragmentation of jurisdictions. Moreover, do we need adoption at all? Is not the law relating to the best interests of children capable of considering what is now adoption? Is it appropriate that children placed in out-of-home care should be the subject of an adoption order rather that a parenting order, albeit with one or more adults who start off as strangers to the child?
I suggest that answers to these questions can be found, at least in part, from Australia's experiences with forced adoption. While large numbers of those experiences represent the very worst aspects of adoption the issues of consent, ongoing parental involvement and, in particular for adoptees, personal identity should inform our consideration of the possibilities fo the law reform in this area.