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“Sorry means you don’t do it again”: Hundreds protest ongoing Indigenous child removals on Sorry Day

Approximately 400 people turned out to demand an end to the forced adoption laws.

Hazel Collins, Aunty Doreen Webster, and Michael Welsh, speakers at the 2019 Sorry Day rally holding Aboriginal Flag outside NSW State Parliament

Hundreds of protesters rallied this afternoon against forced adoption laws allowing the ongoing removal of Indigenous children that were passed in November last year. Approximately 400 people gathered at Hyde Park Fountain to attend the rally that had been organised by Grandmothers Against Removals on the eleventh anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations.

The rally’s focal point was the forced adoption laws that were passed in the NSW Parliament by the Berejiklian Government in November 2018 which allows children to be removed from their families without their parents’ consent. Almost 40% of children in out-of-home care are Indigenous, meaning that these laws disproportionately impact Indigenous families. The laws prevent children from being returned to their families after a period of only two years in out of home care.

“[We stand] not too far from the supposed corridors of power that have made a decision that will continue to endanger our children,” said Anne Walden, a Wiradjuri elder and NSW board member of the local Aboriginal Council who opened the speeches with a Welcome to Country.Greens MP David Shoebridge also spoke against the policy, which he voted against at the time, deeming the laws “ignorant of history, ignorant of what the meaning of sorry is…sorry surely means you don’t do it again.”

Hazel Collins, one of the founders of Grandmothers Against Removals, also spoke.

“Our children are our future. One day regardless of race, we will be the ancestral footprint and one thing that our children need to know is that we fought to bring them home,” she said.

The crowd also heard from Michael Welsh, who spoke of the traumatic cruelty he had been subjected to in Kinchela Boys Home during his youth. ”As an eight-year-old, I was taken away as part of a group of seven from my mother.”

“Over the years I’ve watched my brothers and sisters come back to my home family never to be reconnected. We loved each other as a family but the family structure has been broken,” he said.  

Aunty Doreen Webster, who had been taken from her family and placed in the Cootamundra Girls’ Training Home, highlighted the need of the NSW government to learn from their past mistakes. “They could do well to engage with our Stolen Generation organisations. We know what it means to be removed from our parents and family. Anything less [than engaging with us] would be insanity. There must be no more repetition. Sorry means you never do it again.”

Protesters hold placards in Hyde Park.
Protesters hold placards in Hyde Park. Photo: Annie Zhang.

Paul Grey, the acting CEO of peak Aboriginal body ABSEC, demanded the government to consider Indigenous solutions. “As we know, healing happens in our communities. The way to heal Aboriginal families comes through Aboriginal communities. Embrace new solutions, our solutions, Aboriginal-led solutions that we know will work.”

Judith Wright, Deputy Secretary of the Australian Services Union, recognised community services and their work with Indigenous families and communities. “Forced adoptions destroy families and destroy lives. This government should be invested in keeping families together, not tearing them apart. Community services must be sustainably funded with skilled, valued and respected individuals.”

The government currently spends $1.2 billion operating out-of-home care services and placing children in these services. One sixth of that is spent on support networks to keep families together and strengthen communities.

“Parliament House last November forced the adoption bill which was shamelessly rushed through and became law. We’re demanding that these laws be repealed,” Wright said.

While the government claims to have taken submissions from the sector regarding the legislation, these have never been made public.

A FIRE flag flies over the rally at Hyde Park Fountain.
A FIRE flag flies over the rally at Hyde Park Fountain. Photo: Annie Zhang.

Speaker Tanya Mihalik Shadow Family and Community Services Minister also said “a letter to the Parliament signed by over 80 organisations [and thousand of individuals] was ignored by Premier Berejiklian.’ She highlighted the 29 amendments that were proposed in the passing of the bill. These were developed in consultation with community lawyers and community members. All these safeguards were rejected by the government and a draft exposure bill was never proposed suggesting [the Liberal Party ‘had no interest in engaging with the sector.”

“If elected we will repeal this legislation within 100 days,” she said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar, spoke to the resilience of the Indigenous community. “We’re black women and we don’t give up, and we’re strong.” Oscar is a strong advocate for Indigenous Australian languages and social justice.

David Shoebridge told Honi, “The number of Aboriginal children being taken in this state has doubled since the apology. The number of Aboriginal kids has increased five fold [since the Bringing Them Home Report of 1997].”

“If these statistics weren’t enough to make us take a step back, the fact that the NSW Parliament passed fresh laws in November 2018 that most of its critics say will cause another stolen generation should be,” he said.

The speakers then led a march towards NSW Parliament down Macquarie Street, a street named after historical figure Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who had historically forced the adoption of thousands of children who would become the Stolen Generation. Protesters marched passed the Law Courts and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Hazel Collins speaks to the rally in front of NSW Parliament.
Hazel Collins speaks to the rally in front of NSW Parliament. Photo: Annie Zhang.

Upon arriving, the Indigenous speakers tied an Aboriginal flag to the gates of the Parliament. Hazel Collins gave another rousing speech, saying, “I’m sick of these whitefellas telling us how to live our lives. I say fuck ‘em. They don’t what we’ve lived through.”

“Till the day I die, till the last baby is brought home, I’ll be out here and I’ll be holding the government accountable,” she said.

Another rally is taking place tomorrow to commemorate the killing of TJ Hickey in 2004. Protesters will meet TJ Hickey Park in Waterloo from 10am to 2pm, hosted by the Indigenous Social Justice Association.