Apology for forced adoption practices


Mr President,

I rise, on behalf of the Labor Opposition, to support this motion.

In doing so, we acknowledge that mothers, fathers, children and families …

… have suffered from the cruel, destructive and heart-breaking practice of forced adoption.

This practice strikes us today as not only morally and ethically reprehensible…

….but also as clearly contrary to law.

In fact, it was always so.

The adoptions we speak of today involved practices that either diminished a mother’s rights under the law …

… or, in many cases, simply broke them outright.

We will probably never know exactly how many mothers and children this was inflicted on.

This is due not only to a lack of records …

… but also to the often surreptitious nature of this practice …

… and the various ways in which appalling pressure was applied to women to separate from their beloved children.

New South Wales, thanks to the dedication of the former Labor member for East Hills Pat Rogan, launched an inquiry into adoption practices in 1998.

We were the first state to do so.

Much of what we now know about forced adoptions was brought to light through the Inquiry of the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues and the committee's final report, Releasing the Past: Adoption Practices 1950-1998.

The testimony of mothers revealed a disturbing variety of ways that their children were forcibly removed.

Yes, many mothers were forced in the most literal sense; by which I mean they were physically and criminally wrenched from their babies.

But there were other methods just as destructive, if not as violent.

Some mothers were manipulated.

Some mothers were coerced.

Some were psychologically bullied…

And some were deliberately presented with such an abject lack of support and compassion…

… that having their child taken from them was presented as the only available path.

I do not think there is profit in trying to distinguish between these methods.

They were all forced.

They reflect shamefully on the society and State that made them permissible – even tacitly.

This is a matter of shame for the State of New South Wales, because at the very point when these women deserved our greatest support …

… we abandoned them.

At the very moment when a mother most needs voices that say;

“it’s OK, you can do this”…

….they heard derision, scorn and threat.

All they heard was;

…..“you can’t do this….

….and you won’t.”

They were denied the protection of the law and then, in the wake of that violation, the compassion of their community.

Instead, this practice relied entirely on convincing mothers that it was they who were at fault…

……that it was they who were to blame…

…..that it was their failings which necessitated these egregious acts.

They were victims treated like criminals.

There were mothers who, in their grief and despair, were told to forget that their child had even existed.

There were children who, in their search for identity and family, were told that their mother had never loved them.

This is to say nothing of the fathers, grandparents …

… and whole families whose lives were also profoundly affected.

All this cruelty, inflicted in the name of satisfying somebody else’s idea of what was “in the best interest”.

Mr President,

There has been too much despair and suffering …

… for us to equivocate about this human tragedy.

So let us be blunt.

Forced adoption was wrong.

It was wrong morally.

It was wrong legally.

It was wrong for mothers.

It was wrong for children.

And it was indefensibly so.

There is no rationalisation for these barbaric tears of the mother and child bond.

There is no cloak of “higher good” or “best intentions” large enough…

…to shield the hurt, horror and injury of this practice.

This can never be said enough.

Mothers were told, even convinced, that they were at fault.

That is not, and was not, ever true.

And so to the mothers present today we can not say clearly enough…

… it is we who failed …

… it was not you.

Mr President,

For these mothers and children, this day has been a long time coming …

… far too long.

And I know that these are only words.

But by ending the silence …

… by publicly acknowledging this appalling wrong …

… and the pain it continues to cause …

… we at least open the possibility of a new chapter.

To those mothers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for their children, we are sorry.

To those people adopted as children who were denied the opportunity to be loved and cared for by their birth families, we are sorry.

To those fathers who were denied choices, we are sorry.

We, in this Parliament, are sorry.

We apologise …

… unreservedly …

… without qualification.

I commend the Motion to the House.