Introduction and First Reading
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS (16:17): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to establish a scheme for ex gratia payments of compensation to be made to members of the Stolen Generations; and for other purposes. Read a first time.
The Hon. T.J. STEPHENS (16:18): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I rise today to speak on the Stolen Generations (Compensation) Bill 2014. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to introduce this bill on behalf of the Liberal opposition. This is one of those private members' bills that come about rarely, in that it has the goodwill of the crossbench members of parliament and, I believe, the government. This bill, although historic, is not revolutionary.
Reparations have been made to members of the Stolen Generations and their families in Tasmania and this bill is based upon that jurisdiction's legislation. Last year the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee handed down its report into the Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal Bill, which was originally moved by the Hon. Tammy Franks in 2010. This multi-party committee found overwhelmingly that providing ex gratia reparations to members of the Stolen Generations and their families would give some closure to those Aboriginal people who were removed, most of whom suffered as a result of being taken from their families. The committee recommended that the bill be redrafted to simplify the process and reflect the Tasmanian legislation, which we have done.
So, I would like to thank the Hon. Tammy Franks for her work on the 2010 bill, as I know that this is an issue dear to her heart. I would also like to acknowledge the government members opposite and in the other place who have served on the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee at any one time or another. I know they, too, appreciate the importance of formally acknowledging the pain and suffering South Australian Aboriginal people have experienced as a result of the policies of previous governments.
The support the opposition has received, from the time my leader in the other place, Mr Steven Marshall, the member for Dunstan, announced his intention to introduce this bill, has been both humbling and touching. If the chamber will indulge me, I will read a few excerpts of comments made in the media in relation to this bill. The South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Khatija Thomas said:
This bill and process recognises the individual suffering of these people. It's a meaningful acknowledgment of their pain and suffering. While no amount of money can ever take away the pain the stolen generation experienced and lived with…for the members who are elderly and frail it may provide for a few comforts in their final years.
The University of Adelaide's Dean of Indigenous Education, Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney, said:
One of the things about any process is the pain you feel when you relive and retell those stories. This is a far easier route for Indigenous people to get heard, to hear and to have people care for them in a way that is respectful of what's happened.
Only this week a prominent Aboriginal activist and lawyer, Michael Mansell, said of the Tasmanian experience:
I have seen that those victims of the stolen generations policy in Tasmania have closed that dark chapter in their lives and have moved on.
NAIDOC Male Elder of the Year, Tauto Sansbury, said:
Instead of going through the court system where you again suffer the ridicule of being interrogated about things that have happened to you…[this bill provides] truth in reconciliation of understanding the impact of the stolen generation and how it doesn't get to affect one person but it affects a family, so I think it's a great move.
Cheryl Axlelby from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement said, in relation to the reparations payments coming out of the Victims of Crime Fund, that:
The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement think it is a good suggestion, particularly because members of the stolen children generation are also victims of crime in that context;…many of our members were illegally taken from their families.
The Liberal opposition has introduced this bill because we believe that members of the stolen generations in South Australia deserve the opportunity to tell their stories and to receive compensation for what they have experienced. However, this bill is not only morally correct but financially prudent. As the parliamentary committee found, a resolution through the act of reparations would:
…reduce the cost to both the state and the members of the stolen generations…[as] a total cost of operating the tribunal and paying monetary compensation and reparations to up to 300 stolen generations persons would probably be far less than the total cost of defending against litigation.
That is currently the only course of action Aboriginal South Australians have. I would like to thank all those people who have come forward and spoken to the opposition on this matter and thank them for their support. I am hopeful that the passage of this bill will signal a new chapter of reconciliation in South Australia. In closing, I would like to signal my and the opposition's intent to work with all members in whatever way necessary to see this legislation progress and to ensure that we get the best outcome for Aboriginal South Australians.