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Gillard's finest hour goes unnoticed

  • 25 March 2013
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