Stolen Generations Apology Twenty-Fifth Anniversary

Clayton Barr - Commemorations

Mr CLAYTON BARR (Cessnock) (12:17): I make a contribution to debate on the motion regarding the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generation. I also acknowledge that I make this contribution on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I say proudly that I represent a community that is the junction point of three different Aboriginal nations: the Awabakal to the east, the Darkinjung to the south, and the Wonnarua through the centre and up to the west of the Cessnock electorate. Some people say that recognition statements at the start of speeches are woke. There are many commentators who say that it is unimportant and insignificant and is somehow pleading to the bleeding hearts of the left. These important recognitions are pleading for forgiveness from the Indigenous people whose country was essentially invaded 230 years ago. Invasion is another woke issue.

I refer members to the many Australians who have walked the Kokoda Trail and other recognition of wartime interactions, whether it be in Sydney Harbour, Newcastle Harbour or Darwin or off the coast of Queensland. They were foreign invading forces coming to this country. At the time the people in this country—by then well and truly run and ruled by white European settlers and colonisers—considered them to be invaders. Imagine Indigenous people seeing those boats sail in 230 years ago and those white people from the other side of the world settling. I do not know how we can consider that anything other than an invasion. But plenty of commentators would consider that a woke issue. Certainly in 2022, if a foreign nation sailed ships into any of our harbours and established a footprint and started to treat those of us already here cruelly or committed potential genocide, I think we would call that an invasion. But, again, some commentators would call that a woke issue.

Yesterday in this Chamber a number of Indigenous Elders who were directly affected stolen children made powerful, moving speeches. ”Stolen” is a very important word and should not to be undermined or underplayed. They told stories about how they were literally plucked from the streets while they were walking home or around a reserve. They were literally kidnapped, just taken off the streets and to a home—a different place to stay. I say a “home”, but I do not think it was being described yesterday as a home. It was more of a camp or an internment. They were taken away from their families. There was no explanation. The laws at that time allowed that to happen.

I am a father of four children. I cannot for one second imagine what it would be like for one or three or four of my kids to go out one day and never come home and for the government of this land to say, “We did that and that is okay.” I would be in absolute despair. I would fear for my children and the life they would have. I like to think they live a lovely life with a roof over their heads, food on the table and loving parents—we are doing our best; we are not perfect—but I wonder what it would be like if they were just plucked off the streets, taken somewhere separate from each other and forced to stay until they were into their teens or early adult life.

That is stolen. It is kidnapped and abducted. In this world, in this place and in this country today, it is against the law. But there was a time when it was against the law for white or European children but not for our Indigenous people, who were here for 50,000 years before we were. What does 50,000 years mean? Think about a one‑metre ruler. Break it down into all the millimetres along it. There are 1,000 of them. Go to the very last millimetre at the very end of that one‑metre ruler—we have all seen them—and mark that point. That last one millimetre is how long white Europeans have been here on the journey of this country and the journey of people occupying this country. For the other 99.9 centimetres, only the wonderful Indigenous people cared for this beautiful country.

I am proud that Labor gave the apology in New South Wales, that it gave the apology at the Federal Government level, that the recently elected Federal Labor Government is committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, an Indigenous voice to government, and that a future Labor government in this State is committed to treaty. I am proud that just about every member of the Labor caucus was out the front of Parliament yesterday for the smoking ceremony—as were half of the Coalition Government MPs. I am proud of them as well. We have to be leaders in this space. We have to take the entire community on a journey, lest they call this issue woke. Leadership is the responsibility of every person in this House, not just some of us. There is so much more to do.