In South Australian, State Greens Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation spokesperson, Tammy Franks, has spent the last three years trying to push through parliament a Stolen Generations reparations Bill. After a long wait, Ms Franks’ Bill received support from a parliamentary committee.
Ms Franks welcomes the support for the Bill by members of both the Labor and Liberal parties of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee (ALPSC). The ALPSC inquired into Ms Franks’ 2010 Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal Bill.
“A reparations tribunal intended to address the historical wrongs of the Stolen Generations is long overdue. At State and Commonwealth Government levels we have now recognised the hurt and harm caused to the Stolen Generations by way of a formal apology,” said Ms Franks.
“Saying ‘Sorry’ is just a start. If we continue to only have a system for recompense which forces Aboriginal people into our expensive and adversarial courts system, we prove not only that we haven’t learned the lessons of our past, but that we are destined to prolong the pain.”
“Sorry means not only taking that responsibility for past action, but pledging to do better in the future.”
The Committee engaged in a process of inquiry that formally took two years. The Committee made up of Labor, Liberal and Greens parliamentary members recommended to Parliament to adopt the model undertaken by the Tasmanian Government. Tasmania is the only jurisdiction to deliver a Stolen Generations’ Reparations Tribunal to date.
“Whilst as a nation and as a state we have taken that first step and formally apologised to the Stolen Generations, it is now time to take the next step in South Australia, as Tasmania before us has done,” said Ms Franks.
“The cross-party committee has looked at my original Bill and recommended a process that will provide both recognition for the emotional, physical and cultural harms that people were subject to as a result of policies and practices of past State Governments. It will enable a more respectful, kinder, and indeed for the budget bottom-line, a much cheaper pathway for reparations.”
“Survivors of the Stolen Generation(s) and their families will not receive justice just yet – but this lays the foundation for future action that will provide a long-overdue redress.”
“I trust both Labor and Liberal parties will take this issue to the State Election poll as a promise which must be delivered in 2014, regardless of who becomes Premier in March,” said Ms Franks.
The Committee suggested that it was only fitting that their recommendations be presented by Ms Franks.
Ms Franks said in her presentation to her parliamentary colleagues, “The Bill offers reparations to those Aboriginal people who were removed or, in essence, stolen from their families under State Government policy practices, that were in place until the 1970s. By offering reparations, the State is also acknowledging that the practices of the past caused emotional, physical and cultural harm.”
Mr Franks said that successive governments “have rejected the idea of reparations and have then had to deal with a number of civil cases brought by members of the Stolen Generations individually through the Courts.”
“One case defended by the Government had legal costs of over $10 million for the Australian Government. The only successful civil case for compensation was in the South Australian Supreme Court, where there was an award of $525,000 to Ngarrindjeri man Bruce Trevorrow.”
“(Mr Trevorrow) had been removed from his family at the age of 13 months.” Ms Franks noted the legal costs were in the vicinity of $2 million.
Ms Franks said that the operation of tribunal would “reduce the cost to both the State and (to) the members of the Stolen Generations and certainly be cost efficient compared with the State defending against litigation.”
“A tribunal process would also reduce the trauma experienced by members of the Stolen Generations given that process is not adversarial, unlike court proceedings.”
The Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee held 10 hearings, took evidence from 16 witnesses and received 11 formal submissions. The Committee also had the benefit of the ‘Bringing Them Home Report’.
“The Committee agreed that it supported the intent of the Bill. However, it recommended that it be simplified from its original form to only provide reparations in the form of ex gratia payments to South Australian Aboriginal people who were removed or stolen from their families as children, using the Tasmanian Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Act 2006 assessment and tribunal process as a framework for South Australian legislation,” said Ms Franks.
The Tasmanian Government made provision for $5 million to eligible claimants. A total of 151 claims were received and 106 of them were considered eligible; with 84 who were removed as part of the Stolen Generations and 22 who were the children of Stolen Generations victims but whose parent had died. The 22 children of those who had passed away shared $100,000 while the remaining $4.9 million was divided equally among the 84 surviving victims, each receiving $58,000.
It is estimated there could be 300 to 400 South Australian surviving victims who could lodge a claim.
“We cannot undo the damage done here, but we can redress the ongoing harm and anguish now,” said Ms Franks.
The 1997 Bringing Them Home Report estimated that between one in ten to one in three of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families due to Government policies and up until the 1970s.