Gillard's finest hour goes unnoticed


Most of our attention to Thursday's events in Canberra focused on the disintegration of the ALP, reflecting politicians at their worst. But on page 9 of Friday's Sydney Morning Herald was a headline that described the overshadowed Forced Adoptions Apology as revealing Prime Minister Julia Gillard 'at her finest'.

The Apology was one of the recommendations of a 2012 Senate Inquiry, which found that up to 250,000 babies were forcibly taken by their mothers, often illegally, by governments, hospitals, churches and charities.

'Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering,' said Gillard. 'You were not legally or socially acknowledged as their mothers and you were deprived of care and support.'

Opposition leader Tony Abbott also excelled himself, praising Gillard's 'eloquent and heartfelt statement', with contrite words of his own, in reference to his former girlfriend Kathy Donnelly. 'She deserved nothing but love and support, not coercive expectations, social stigma and — I say this with more than a pang of personal guilt — men in her life who had failed to live up to their responsibilities.'

The Forced Adoptions Apology echoes the 2008 Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples and the 2009 Apology to the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants

There is an emerging pattern of bipartisan official determination to bring about reconciliation between the Australian nation and those of its number whom it has hurt. It represents a break from the position of previous government which saw such hurt as the sole responsibility of past generations of Australians and their leaders.

Abbott showed signs that he is on board with this, in his address on Indigenous disadvantage at the Sydney Institute earlier this  month, distancing himself from the policies of John Howard and previous generations of Liberal leaders. 'John was of a generation, of a circumstance, where perhaps Indigenous people were not as valued as in different circumstances and different times.'

The challenge for Abbott, and also the ALP, is to be consistent, and similarly value all disadvantaged Australians and other people whose care is our responsibility. This includes a number of groups, notably asylum seekers. 

History shows that it takes time to realise the hurt we cause to our fellow human beings through rational but inhumane government policy. But the pattern of formal apologies since 2008 demonstrates it is the right and noble task of politicians to give priority to atoning for such public errors of judgment that cause so much suffering. Such moments are indeed our political leaders' finest, and they deserve more attention.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, National Apology, Forced Adoption



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Existing comments

Yes, while all three apologies were given both major parties were busy making another whole group of victims to be apologised to at some later time.
Marilyn | 23 March 2013

Really? You don't think Gillard was motivated just a teensy weensy bit by political opportunism? Sorry but these sort of high emotion events, I believe are just part of a political PR campaign. It's the equivalent of kissing babies on the campaign trail. Sadly, you seemed to have taken the hook. These revisionist apologies seem to have become popular with this govt. because they allow a politician to take a high-and-mighty moral position with little at stake. Many of us would simply be happy if Ms Gillard did a good job leading the country.
Gail | 23 March 2013

Yes I found the telecast of Julia's speech quite overwehelming in its appeal to empathetic espousal of sorrow for the loss caused. I liked the letter to the editor of the SMH today which wondered whether an apology will have to be given to the children of surrogacy in the next generation. And I couldn't help but wonder whether Government neglect of women's transcendent calling to motherhood is not evidenced through our contraceptive-abortive paradigm of approaching the hidden marvel of fertility.
Louise O'Brien-Jeffree | 23 March 2013

Who in the future will apologise to the thousands of refugee children Gillard has locked up and stripped of all human rights. Gillard has gone further to the right than Howard ever dared.
Marilyn | 24 March 2013

It is truly dispiriting to read the utter -- and, I believe, unwarranted -- cynicism of "Gail's" comment. Being a politician is, I think, the most difficult task that anyone can take on in our community: everything that you do and say is, potentially, public property; every change of mind is a "back-flip". And everything that you do is seen as opportunistic and self-interested by a cynical electorate which cannot recognise the "beam" in its own eye while sneering at the "mote" in yours. "Gail" sneers at Ms Gillard yet sees no need -- in the event that her opinion os to have any vaildity -- to direct the same charge at Mr Abbott. If one is guilty, they surely BOTH are. The more likely possibility is that they're both sincere. Why not acknowledge and commend that possibility?
Dr John CARMODY | 25 March 2013

Her "finest hour" doesn't appear to have struck a cord with the electorate which still labours (according to the electorate opinion) under the self-preservation shambles and loss of integrity over which she presides.
john frawley | 25 March 2013

Politics is certainly an ugly business. This apology received bipartisan support. It was totally overshadowed. But it is a step in the right direction. By posting about party politics it again undermines this landmark apology.
Jenny Esots | 25 March 2013

Well said, Mr Mullins. I believe both the PM and Abbott were sincere, and Dr Carmody's point is spot on. Comments re the damage being done to asylum seekers and their children are also pertinent. Would that the churches and society pressure politicians into multi-party support for sensible and humane policies which allow politicians to respond with their finer selves in the present
Patricia R | 25 March 2013

I agree with Gail's comment, but many of us would simply be happy if Ms. Gillard would call an election NOW.
Ron Cini | 25 March 2013

Couldn't agree more. Having met women who have carried emotional scars from the forced adoption of their babies in the 1960s, I hope some good will come from the bi-partisan apology by the Australian Parliament. It's a pity the apology was over-shadowed by the Labor leadership brouhaha. And yet that very fiasco illustrates the sort of politicians/government ministers that still exist and who can draw up legislation and administrative procedures that can have devastating human consequences. Is the House of Representatives really representative of your average Australian woman and man? What would Kangaroo Dundee (ABC1, Thursday, 8.30 pm) make of their shenanigans?
Uncle Pat | 25 March 2013

I take your points John Carmody, and Patricia R also, but I think that Marylin makes a very valid point to which I would like to add: Sincerity can only come over as sincere when it is consistant, otherwise it seems to constitute mere emotionalism.
John Whitehead | 25 March 2013

Pity neither Gillard nor Abbott offered a word of thanks to adoptive parents who nurtured, fed, educated and loved hundreds of thousands of children given up by their natural mothers. I don't know if the biological mothers of our two adopted children were forced to part with them, but each of the two mothers had 30 days before a court hearing to rescind their decisions to give them up. At least one of the two rejected her child when with our help our adopted child contacted her natural mother as an adult.I hope she wasn't among the 800 who attended the Canberra meeting.
Bill Barry | 25 March 2013

Apologies are good. When sincere - as I believe the apology of the Australian people, through its Prime Minister, was sincere - an apology helps healing and renewal. However, without a 'firm promise of amendment' the good done is limited. Seeing the harm done by well-intentioned government policies in the past, surely we should be looking at our current policies and practices to gauge more accurately their future impact on the vulnerable. I agree with Louise O'Brien Jeffree, and wonder whether a future Prime Minister will be apologizing to women who were 'forced' to terminate their pregnancies by the coercive power of a culture which says termination is a minor matter which should be available to all women on demand. And what about apologies to people who've been kept in the worst of generational poverty by divisive educational policies? Let's get into apology-prevention mode!
Joan Seymour | 25 March 2013

I agree with Bill Barry. I adopted a child and when as a very little boy he asked me "Why did the other lady give me away"? I said: "Because she loved you, she loved you very very much and she wanted you to have what she was not able to give you". I believed that in 1973 and I still believe it today.
Carole Wilson | 25 March 2013

Adopting a child that the mother willingly relinquished has nothing to do with forced adoptions.
Marilyn | 25 March 2013

The PM's Apology is the result of a Senate Inquiry into Forced Adoptions it wasn't a political stunt as some cynics would have us believe. This was a Human Rights Crime which our country seems to be pretty good at. We have the highest rates of Forced Adoption in the World. Many Aussies may not care two hoots about us mums, but there were 7,500 newspaper and televisions articles about our Apology across the World. I doubt if our leadership squabble even rated a mention.It's the same old story, history repeats itself if we don't learn a lesson from it. If people benefit from a crime they keep quiet about that crime and so therefore they are complicit in that crime. A great many people in this country have kept quiet about Forced Adoption and their letters or emails keep pouring in to remind us how happy they are with their adoption experience, however there have been a lot of suicides in this country because of this callous attitude. Australian women lead the World in this issue with many o/s mothers hot on our heals and soon to have their own Inquiries and Apologies. Instead of bagging us mums perhaps you should be proud of our achievements.
rose | 27 March 2013

Bill Barry - Did you ever think that the mothers of your adopted children were probably not told that they had 30 days to get their babies back and that to get them back they had to write to the court? Many mothers went back to the hospital to get their babies and were told "It's too late, the baby has gone." Mothers were denied their legal rights and were drugged and subjected to coercion and duress to sign consents and were never informed of their rights. I would suggest that you read the Senate Enquiry report into forced adoptions before you make statements such as this. It may also give you some insight into why some mothers are emotionally unable to reconnect with their lost children. I wonder does it concern you in any way that you received children from mothers who may have been forced to adopt their children. I have not read one comment from an adoptive parent that says "I am sorrry, I had no idea that mothers were being forced to adopt their children." I guess that is too much to ask, after all adoptive parents got what they desired and deserved. They felt worthy and entitled to the baby of another woman because they were married.
Robyn Cohen | 27 March 2013

I didnt know what to expect on 21st March.Julia has never been a great favourite of mine but I have done a 180 degree turn after the apology.Her apology was brilliant.She unlike Tony Abbott had bothered to find out what the apology was all about and she delivered her apology with such sincerity. I could not applaud her more and even had to shake her hand to say thank you. Please dont let this wonderful occasion go under the radar because of the labor spill. Julia did a wonderful job.
Kittylou | 28 March 2013

In 30 years time there will be a national apology to asylum seekers given by an Aus-Asian prime minister.So there should be.
drew | 29 March 2013

bill barry i noticed your comment about raising those children i remind you that those children you raised came from their mothers you wouldnt have been able to raise them without their mothers.........who are human beings no less than yourselves......there is no act of love in taking babies from their mothers or in applying for babies to adopt simply because you couldn't birth your own........adoption is only there for the adoption someone is left childless ......the before you adopt think again who you leave childless
motherlove | 29 March 2013

Bill Barrys sniping comment that a relinquishing mother 'had 30 days to rescind' is not realising that many frightened unsupported teenagers only days from giving birth, were not told that, by Social Workers at the Melb and/or Sydney RWHs. Many were not given copies of the Legal Document they signed, simply because that information was on it. This is how it went in 1968: S.Worker: "do you want to allow the adoption of this infant?" Traumatised 19-y-o: "NO but my flat rent is 3 weeks behing and the gas and electric have been cut off for non-payment, the father doesn't want to know and my parents have declared me dead to them" SWorker: "OK, sign here" - with no third witness present as I now know was required by law, and with no mention of the government funds available at the (pre-pensions) time that could have helped.
Helen Brown | 31 March 2013

I find a few people's logic quite remarkable. Our child was stolen, confiscated, abducted, misappropriated and transplanted against our will. After decades of misery an Australian woman stood before us and apologized to us...if she wasn't Julia Gillard...if she was an obscure woman from the suburbs...the detractors might actually consider and comment about the REASON for the hurts to see that one eyed politically motivated comment is more important to some than social conscience.
Jacqui Gilchrist | 31 March 2013

Julia did us proud. Indeed it was a great apology with depth ,understanding and sincerity. Such a pity that the spill did not give her and the apology the recognition it deserved.On the other hand Tony Abbott managed to offend adoptees and mothers in an apology speech.
Louise | 01 April 2013


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