Apology Speech Thu 18 October 2012 Lara Giddings Premier Download hi-res version APOLOGY TO PEOPLE HURT BY PAST FORCED ADOPTION PRACTICES Premier Lara Giddings 18 October 2012 Mr Speaker, I move- That the Tasmanian community acknowledges and takes responsibility for the past practices of forced removal and adoption of children. We deeply regret that these past practices have caused great pain and suffering to mothers and their children, who are now adults, and have profoundly affected the lives of fathers, grandparents, siblings, partners and other family members. To those people who have held their pain close for so many years, who have lived their lives under a shadow of secrecy, shame, anger, guilt and deeply held trauma and loss, we offer you our unreserved and sincerest apologies. We accept with profound sorrow that mothers were not afforded the opportunity to give informed consent to the adoption of their children, nor were they informed of their rights or provided with the support that mothers need. We deeply regret that mothers were treated in cruel and deeply disrespectful ways, and that many were not allowed to see or hold their babies. To those mothers who had their babies taken from them, we acknowledge that you loved your babies and did not willingly give them away, and we are deeply sorry for this injustice and the harm it has caused. We recognise that practices of our past mean that there are members of our community today who remain disconnected from their families of origin. To the adopted children, who are now adults, and who were denied the opportunity to grow up with, and be loved and cared for by their parents and families, we offer you our sincere and unreserved apology. We acknowledge your loss of identity and the many difficulties created by not knowing your origins. For that we are deeply sorry. To those Tasmanian families separated by an adoption that was forced upon them we express our heartfelt sympathy and we are sorry. We acknowledge the lifelong damage that has been done to the lives of those affected by past forced adoption practices, and we commit to ensuring that these unethical, immoral and illegal practices are never repeated. We come together today in this House, the three political parties united, to acknowledge the deep hurt caused by past forced adoption practices. We are here as representatives of the Tasmanian community, to offer our sincere apology to mothers, fathers, their children who are now grown up, and their families. We come together to take responsibility for those practices which were wrong not merely by today's values, but by the laws of the time. I appreciate that not everyone who has been separated from a family member considers it a damaging experience and that there have been very positive and loving circumstances of adoption. I accept and respect those feelings. I also recognise that not everyone who has been separated from a family member by adoption feels that this apology is necessary, and I acknowledge their experience and the validity of their feelings. It is the work of the Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee and its 2012 report on the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices that has recently shone a light on these practices of our past. The report serves as a marker of time. It opens the door on the practices that took place throughout the country last century and it allows those of us who are not affected by these practices to look in at the truth. We are here today delivering this apology because of the courage of those who spoke up during that inquiry. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the people who shared their experiences with the Senate Committee as well as the previous Tasmanian inquiries, including the Parliamentary Inquiry in 1999. Some of you are here today and I thank you for coming. It is important to understand what we mean by 'forced adoption'. The Senate Committee report defines forced adoption as "…adoption where a child's natural parent, or parents, were compelled to relinquish a child for adoption." We know from the report that young mothers and fathers were put under extreme emotional and physical pressure to consent to adoption. The barriers put in front of those mothers and fathers who wished to keep their children were too high, and the pressure to give up their children was far too great. They were given no choice at all. The trauma caused by these past adoption practices has flowed like a tide through many lives, through families and through generations. It is difficult to know how many babies were taken from their mothers in Tasmania. The total number of recorded adoptions between 1920 and 1988 in Tasmania was over 11000. These include adoptions by family members and inter-country adoptions. We have no way of knowing what proportion of these would be considered forced, and record-keeping during much of this period was very poor. It is also difficult to know exactly in which years these adoption practices took place, but we do know of babies being forcibly removed from their mothers into the 1980s. Up until 1968, adoptions were generally arranged privately through solicitors. The introduction of the Adoption of Children Act in that year gave the Tasmanian Government sole responsibility for arranging adoptions, and allowed for a charitable organisation to operate as a private adoption agency. Throughout this period of Tasmania's history babies continued to be forcibly removed from their mothers. The illegality of these past practices is recognised by the Senate Committee Report, and we too acknowledge that the practices that took place at this time were illegal. These decades of the 20th century were particularly unforgiving for unmarried pregnant women. Australian society's judgment was harsh, and pregnancy outside marriage held with it a profound social stigma. The Senate Committee reported that these women suffered isolation and systematic disempowerment by families, employers, society, religious communities, health professionals and maternity homes. Many of them were considered to have brought shame upon their family, their church and their community. One mother in her submission to the Senate Inquiry described the consequences of shame, she said - 'his four grandparents, rather than braving the shame and whispers, preferred to save face and give him away; dispatch him to a life with strangers. So I was sent to an unmarried mothers' home to wait for our son's birth.' The women themselves have said they were treated like dirt, and made to feel like they were bad girls, and these feelings have stayed with them. It doesn't take long in Tasmania to find people who have been affected by past adoption practices. I am honoured to have met some of the women and men who have experienced trauma as a result of these past adoption practices. Many of you are here today. Some of you have also shared your stories as part of our consultation over recent months, and I thank you for your courage and your openness that has led us to this apology today. It is impossible to dismiss these stories as happening too long ago, to people who are foreign to us, in places that are unfamiliar. These things happened in our lifetimes, or the lifetimes of our parents. The practices were carried out by people in trusted roles in institutions that are familiar to us like the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Queen Victoria Hospital, Elim Maternity Hospital and Rocklyn Maternity Hospital. To you, the mothers -the stories of your experiences are difficult for many of us to comprehend - but we know they are real. By speaking about your experiences today we hope we can bring them into the light and we can open our hearts to your grief. We respect that each story of forced adoption is unique. We know some Tasmanian mothers were sent off to other places - maternity homes, far away, and in secret, to have their babies. We cannot begin to imagine how terrified you, as young women, would have felt, with unfamiliar changes happening to your bodies, forced to carry the burden of shame, guilt and secrecy, and then to be sent off to a foreign place, alone with no one to look after you. Mothers have told us of their experiences of being drugged during labour, of pain medication being withheld as a punishment for being unmarried. Some of you had your faces covered with pillows as you gave birth. Your babies were taken away before you could see them, and sometimes kept on a separate floor until their adoptive parents took them home. You were not allowed to touch or hold your baby. That most pure and instinctive human need was denied to you as a mother. You were not given the opportunity to name your child. You were not even told whether you had a girl or a boy, or whether your baby was healthy. Some of you had glimpses of paperwork or heard whispers in rooms, and you clung desperately to those tiny snippets of information about your babies. It was all you had. You were offered no choices, adoption was almost always the only recommendation to you. You were not told about your rights or the financial support that was available to you. Some of you were forced to sign paperwork while influenced by medication. Others had your signatures forged. Some of you did not give consent at all. Some of you were lied to and told your babies had died. Some of you were not told that by law you had 30 days to revoke your decision to place your baby for adoption, and so you were not aware of the protection the State had tried to give you. And when some of you, or your relatives, went back to get your baby within those 30 days you found your babies had gone. Birth certificates were re-issued in the adoptive parents' names and strict rules governed access to information. This practice, as well as poor record-keeping, made finding your babies later so very difficult. We acknowledge that those barriers have added another weight to your grief and for that we are profoundly sorry. You were told that you would make other couples happy by giving away your children. You were told that if you loved your babies you would give them up. Then, later, you were told that if you truly loved your children, you would never have given them away. What you have told us you want is for your children to know that you loved them and that you did not willingly give them away. Your love for them was no less just because they were taken from you, and the pain of your loss has stayed with you since that time. To you, the mothers who have suffered so much, we acknowledge your anger and your grief and your deep, deep loss, and we are sorry. We are sorry that many of you were not believed when you spoke about what had happened to you. We want you to know that we believe you now. To the children, who are now grown up, and who have lived lives full of questions without answers. We recognise you have suffered profound feelings of abandonment and loss, and have struggled with issues of identity. Even those of you who knew about your adoption from an early age could never quell those nagging questions - 'Why didn't my mother want me? Why couldn't my mother keep me?' These were understandable questions, but they were based on fears and assumptions which most of you learned later did not reflect the grief, guilt and trauma that your mothers suffered both then and now. Knowing the truth did not stop the constant imagining, which many of you describe as like living in a vacuum. Despite wanting to connect with your adoptive families, for many of you it didn't feel like it was really your story, your history. Living in the middle, you were anxious to do the right thing, but you were not really connected. Some of you have stumbled upon your story later in life and this has led to deep trauma. We cannot imagine how it must feel to discover inadvertently that you were adopted, and then to find that you were removed from a mother who was given no choice. These actions have left wounds that have never healed. Just to undertake the journey to connect with a mother or father has been a challenge for most adopted people. I know you have suffered the pull of loyalty to those who have raised you and loved you, feeling that it is ungrateful to hurt adoptive parents by finding your mother and your father. Against this pull of loyalty was the constant yearning to know the family you never had. We know that when some adopted people are reunited with their parents they can find that it is very difficult as adults to build a bond damaged by years of separation. There is often too much to say and too much unspoken. We understand that this journey has cost you dearly at every stage - not only is there the internal anguish, but there are consequences for attachment, self-esteem and commitment. To you, those children who are now adults, we acknowledge your trauma and your loss, and we are sorry. Fathers of the children who were forcibly removed were treated harshly by past adoption practices. You are the silent dispossessed. Many of you were pushed out and not given the opportunity to give your consent for the adoption. Those who attempted to be involved were often actively discouraged. Some of you were threatened with police action and warned to keep away. For many, no options were given as to what to do next, nor were you asked whether you would like to get married or be a father. You were shut out and ignored, and in some cases were barred from the place where your baby was born. Mothers were discouraged from formally identifying the father of the child, and so your name was not put on the birth certificate. This meant that you were truly unknown to your child. These actions led later to the misconception by children that their fathers did not want to know them, that they didn't care or want to be involved. But the truth for many fathers is that they had their power taken away from them and you were not given a say. You were told to get on with your lives and forget about what had happened. We know from the Senate Inquiry that as a consequence of these experiences, some of you were left with a legacy of stress, anxiety and substance abuse. Many of you have held onto feelings of guilt at putting the mothers through pain, and of a profound sadness that your child would never know you. To those fathers who wanted to love and take care of their babies but were given no choice, we are sorry. The damage wrought by these past adoption practices went beyond the mothers, fathers and the children who are now adults. Other family members have lived their lives carrying the burden of secrecy, guilt and shame. They too have suffered deep emotional pain and in some cases, the disintegration of their own families. It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the members of our communities who have died without finding their children or their parents. To those family members, and the families of those who are no longer with us, we are sorry for your pain and your loss. There are people who live among us who have been holding close a dark, terrible pain for many, many years. Many still keep those secrets tightly held, and to them we say it is not your fault, laws were broken, and for that we are sorry. There are many people, some of whom are here today, who have found the courage deep inside them, buried under the weight of shame and guilt and fear, to tell their stories. They have told their stories to loved ones, to counsellors, and in public, to inquiries in Tasmania, and to the recent Senate Committee inquiry. You probably do not know the power of your stories. But I would like you to know that by telling your stories you have given others the courage to come forward. You have lit the path so that others may walk upon it. By telling your stories you share your pain with each of us, and together we have the strength to bear it. The Senate Committee report described the relief felt by one woman when she found out that there was an Inquiry - she said, 'it's like being buried alive...I've been clawing the lid of the coffin trying to get out, and someone has just lifted the lid off for me...and I'm gulping fresh air.' I know that by making this apology today we are shining the light on some dark secrets and deeply held fears, and that some people may not want that to happen. I hope that by saying sorry we can help lighten their burden. The laws and practices of today are far removed from the adoption practices of our past. Members of this House, as representatives of the Tasmanian community, come together today to express our determination to ensure that such practices never happen again. We commit to providing specialised counselling support and free access to records, as well as a permanent memorial as an expression of our heartfelt sympathy. We offer this unreserved and sincere apology as an expression of our open-hearted compassion and support for those who have suffered so much. I commend the motion to the house.