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Emotional breakfast at 16th Anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generation

Dechlan Brennan -

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney addressed a gathering on Tuesday marking the 16th anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology in 2008 to the thousands of Indigenous people forcibly removed from their families as children was considered a landmark in reconciliation. The exact number of children who were removed may never be known and the ongoing ramifications through trauma are prevalent throughout Aboriginal communities.

Between 1997 and 1999 all state and territory parliaments officially apologised to the Stolen Generations; however the Howard government (1996-2007) refused to apologise.

Yorta Yorta man and Stolen Generations survivor Ian Hamm addressed the breakfast gathering and recalled the "mixed emotions" when footage from the apology by Kevin Rudd was played to the room.

"I think one of the things that's come out today is that it always reminds us, particularly the stolen children, how much the apology meant to us and continues to mean to us," he said, as reported by the ABC.

"I think it's particularly important today, given it's the first Aboriginal-focused event after the referendum last year.

"So, it was quite emotional this morning, when you think about all those things. And as usual, when Kevin Rudd spoke and they showed a clip of the actual apology itself — you could feel the sense of joy in the room — also, with a little bit of a tinge of sadness about how far we've come, but how far we have to go."

Addressing a large group of First Nations people at Parliament House, the PM said the apology in 2008 was an "overdue acknowledgement of a great hurt."

"It was the act of a nation that will no longer turn its back," he said.

"And it was our ears and hearts finally open for all who had for so long been telling us a difficult truth.

"Survivors speaking for themselves, speaking for those who couldn't. Our nation was lifted by the courage of everyone who spoke up. Everyone who told their stories and took on the burden, and so often the trauma, of revisiting their childhood.

"And courage is what we saw in every member of the Stolen Generations who came here that day and faced the very institution that had failed you and failed you profoundly."

Message Stick founding director and Stolen Generations survivor Michael McLeod told the ABC: "I have to say my feelings at that time when the apology was given was, 'I never thought I would hear the apology being given by a prime minister in my lifetime'."

"That in itself was just so intense to be there and witness it."

Mr McLeod said he organises the event so experiences like his "aren't forgotten and history isn't repeated."

Minister Burney told the breakfast, which saw survivors of the Stolen Generation sitting between politicians, she remembered the day in 2008 "like it was yesterday".

"After the apology in the house, I remember walking out onto the forecourt of the parliament, and Aunty Mae Robinson was standing there, and she had a black and white photograph of an eight-year-old girl with a big bow in her hair," Minister Burney said.

"I fell into her arms, as she fell into mine. And she said, 'Linda, I brought Mummy with me today.'

"And of course, that eight-year-old girl with the ribbon in her hair, had been taken to Cootamundra [Aboriginal Girls' Home]."

Mr Hamm is on the board of the Healing Foundation, which released a statement on Tuesday arguing survivors of the Stolen Generations were a "gap within a gap," whose systemic disadvantage is in urgent need of redress.

"We must recognise that Stolen Generations survivors are a 'gap within the gap', a statistical indicator of truth not reconciled," they said.

"As Stolen Generations survivors age, urgency grows. Many survivors have still not had access to redress schemes, a cornerstone of the Bringing Them Home report that was delivered nearly 30 years ago.

"Survivors are ageing and face multiple challenges stemming from histories of forced removal, many will not access aged care services as a result."

During his speech, the PM made mention of the recent Productivity Commission report into Closing the Gap and argued the referendum result from last year "does not diminish one bit our determination to listen to First Nations people about how to close the gap."

"The end is reconciliation," he said. "The end is closing the gap in life expectancy, in education outcomes, health outcomes, housing outcomes."

"This gap in all of these areas diminishes us as a nation."

The PM ended his speech by urging Australians to acknowledge the nation "needed to do better" for Indigenous disadvantage.

"We must do better because First Nations people deserve this," he said.

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