The NSW government is being called upon by a public interest advocacy group to step up, put its money where its mouth is, and establish a Reparations Tribunal that has the power to compensate members of the Stolen Generations and endorse efforts to help them heal.
By
Yasmin Noone

18 Sep 2015 - 3:52 PM  UPDATED 14 Oct 2015 - 10:06 AM

Australian governments, churches and other institutions involved in the state-led forced adoption policies of the past must now put their money where their mouth is and create a reparations tribunal, a public interest lawyer has told NITV.

Sarah Bassiuoni, senior solicitor of the Indigenous Justice Project with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), said her employer wants the NSW government to lead a nationwide charge to holistically compensate members of the Stolen Generation by establishing the first ever Reparations Tribunal.

It would look like but be more expansive than a Royal Commission.

According to PIAC’s vision, a reparations tribunal would approve monetary compensation claims, help people to heal by hearing individual testimonies about past events and take action to increase mental health services for Stolen Generations members.

“If people in government and decision-makers in positions of power are genuinely committed to making amends with what was a whole-of-government approach to Aboriginal communities and individuals,” said Ms Bassiuoni, “then they need to put their money where their mouth is."

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The public interest lawyer acknowledged that Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008 was a significant step towards reconciliation, but many more need to be taken towards full reparation before communities can move on.

“Forced adoption was a lengthy, sustained deliberate racist policy: that’s indisputable,” she said.  

“Governments now need to step up to the plate, do something that might be hard and discuss it with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the spirit of [most] Royal Commissions.

“It’s way past time.”

“Then they need to put their money where their mouth is.”

In former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology, he said the total number of children wrongly removed between 1910 and 1970 was “up to 50,000”.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 1997 Bringing Them Home Report claimed that between one-in-10 and one-in-three Aboriginal children were “forcibly removed”.

“Forced adoption was a lengthy, sustained deliberate racist policy: that’s indisputable."

The idea need for a Stolen Generation reparations tribunal hails from a PIAC submission provided to a NSW Upper House committee inquiry into reparations for the Stolen Generation.

PIAC held a meeting of 70 Aboriginal leaders and politicians at NSW Parliament House on Thursday to discuss ideas on how to make amends, as included in submissions to the inquiry.

“We see the inquiry as an opportunity: the NSW government has shown strong leadership to launch this inquiry in this area,” Ms Bassiuoni said.

“That’s a positive step. But we need to publicly ensure that there is also a national response.”

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The inquiry aims to put the NSW Government’s response to the Stolen Generation under the microscope by having the committee examine the recommendations of the 1996 National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Their Families report, Bringing them Home.

The committee is set to respond to the inquiry with recommendations that guarantee that similar events will never happen again, provide rehabilitation to people affected by forced adoptions, and deliver monetary compensation to members of the Stolen Generation and their descendants.

PIAC’s CEO Edward Santow said he believed the inquiry could finally lead to proper compensation for members of the Stolen Generations and their descendants for the trauma the removal policy caused.

“We know that the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families has had life-long tragic consequences for those taken, and continues to profoundly affect Aboriginal communities throughout NSW,” said Mr Santow.

“The Australian Government’s apology was an important step towards reconciliation.

“It is time for the NSW Government to reflect on its role in the removal of Aboriginal children and make reparations.”

The inquiry will be chaired by The Greens’ Jan Barham, with deputy chair Natasha Maclaren from the Liberal Party.

Reverend Fred Nile from the Christian Democratic Party will sit on the committee and rule on the inquiry as will the Australian Labor Party’s Walt Secord.

The inquiry, which was referred to the committee in June, will receive submissions from interested individuals and organisations until 18 October.

The committee will hold public hearings into the matter on Thursday 5 and Friday 6 November 2015.