A discussion of the South Australian Parliamentary apology for forced adoptions.
[I have edited this, due to stupidity on my part on not realising that the Australian definition of ‘forced adoption’ is different from that used by critics of our UK system. It nagged away at me, so I looked at it more carefully and cleaned this up. Apologies to anyone who has had to read it twice, and potentially been given a misdirection by the first version, which was rubbish. My apology is heartfelt, but not as moving as the Australian apology that I’m blogging about]
The Australian term ‘forced adoption’ refers to the policy in the 60s and 70s of compulsory and wholesale removal of babies and infants from Aboriginal mothers (*and I am corrected by a helpful commenter, also from white mothers, both in massive numbers) and placement with more middle class families. It is vital to realise that this policy was not only lawful, but came about because professionals who believed this was in the best interests of the children had persuaded legislators that it was right. The value of the apology is therefore chiefly about recognising that what can be accepted good practice on the State’s role in the lives of children can in later years seem not only catastrophically wrong, but actually abusive.
The Australian ‘forced adoption’ , although much more pernicious and racially dubious, is more akin I think to our UK Victorian values whereby unmarried mothers either gave up their babies or were committed to madhouses.
I know that this is a different country, and I don’t like the term ‘forced adoptions’ (just as, I suspect, Ian Josephs of the Forced Adoption website doesn’t like an awful lot of the terms that are used in Court proceedings, like ‘family justice’, so fair play)
I’m aware that Australia’s level of adoption is about half that of the UK, and much much lower than the US. I suspect that adoption remains an emotive topic in Australia, and some of the language used in the apology can really be embraced by the critics of our current system.
But Australia doesn’t seem all that different to us (apart from the being tanned and good at sports thing). We have a common language, and a fairly similar country. So when they condemn the practice of adopting children against the wishes of the parents, it bears a bit more listening to than when you hear that some country that we share no cultural overlaps with have done it.
I’m not in a position to argue whether the UK approach is right, or the Australian approach is right, but if two countries with fairly similar outlooks on life and one presumes broadly similar social problems, can reach such markedly different conclusions, then there’s a genuine debate to be had.
In any event, it highlights the point that what is culturally acceptable and considered good practice may appear abhorrent to a later generation, and we should have an eye on the fact that dogma can be wrong. No doubt our critics will say that such an apology may come in the future, and is long overdue. Who am I to say that they are wrong? If you had asked the Australian legislators and professionals whether history would judge them harshly, I’m sure they would have robustly denied this as a possibility.
This bit is from the Premier, John Wetherill
“These adoption practices were the product of multiple failures. They failed to meet a basic standard, whether or not they were in accordance with the law at the time. They reflected a failure to apply a simple test of human conduct – a test which we should all try to apply to ourselves every day. They reflected a failure to ask what has become a famous question: how would I feel if this were done to me? For those failures, and for everything they led to, we are sorry…”
“We apologise for the lies, the fear, the silence, the deceptions. We apologise for the lack of respect, the disbelief, the grief, the trauma and loss. We offer this unreserved apology not just as an act of atonement but as an expression of open-hearted admiration and support for those to whom it is owed. I commend the motion to the house.”
And this bit is the speech given by their equivalent of Ed Milliband, but don’t hold that against him, he seems like a nice chap. You can read that HERE
but I’m going to publish the whole thing, because it is (A) interesting and (B) it took me forever to find it, so at least publishing it makes it slightly easier to find for someone else.
|Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:36):Today our galleries are full to overflowing. It is sadly ironic, perhaps, that on a day when we gather here as a special sitting of this house to acknowledge the past adoption practices that have caused such distress, it is because of another overhang of the 19th and 20th centuries—the asbestos in the House of Assembly chamber—that we are denied the opportunity to have that chamber available, where so many more people might have had the opportunity to see this directly.I welcome all those mothers, sons, daughters, family members and other people who have been affected to our galleries today. I acknowledge also those in other rooms of the parliament who are watching this live and those people who are watching the web stream. We are grateful that that has been made available on this occasion. Many more people, of course, are watching through that online.I recognise the contributions made by the Premier, the minister, and the Leader of the Opposition on behalf of the Liberal Party in particular, but also in seconding the motion to the parliament. This afternoon, members of the Legislative Council will have an opportunity to comment on the apology, and other members of the house in due course.It is an important day for the South Australian community. It is an important day for this parliament and the institutions that this parliament is responsible for. Most importantly, of course, it is an important day for those affected by past adoption practices: the mothers, the sons and the daughters, and their families, so many of whom are here bearing witness today. Madam Speaker, with your leave, I seek leave to directly address my opening remarks to them.
To the mothers who had their babies taken away from them, we know that an apology cannot return a child who was taken for so many years. The loss of a son or daughter taken cannot be restored by a simply apology. Words alone cannot heal the hurt that you have suffered over decades. We hope, though, that they may provide some comfort. You may at least walk from this building feeling vindicated that your community understands that you did not freely give up your child and that your children and your community understand that you never gave up on your child either.
The coercion that led to your child’s adoption, whether it was overt or whether it was subtle, was brutal and wrong. It was inappropriate, it was unethical, it may have been illegal, and today this parliament makes a statement that it is condemned. It is condemned by this parliament on behalf of the institution itself and on behalf of the South Australian community.
On behalf of the parliament, which shares in the responsibility for these actions, we are sorry. In this day and age, children are put up for adoption in South Australia only when there is genuinely no opportunity for family to stay together and we work very hard to ensure that the very few adoptive parents who have this opportunity are everything that they might be; but in our history we have not always been so virtuous.
To the adoptees, to the sons and daughters who were taken at birth, I imagine that your experiences in life have been varied and diverse. Many of you may have been adopted into loving families who did their best for you at every turn. Some of you were not so fortunate, and your negative experiences make this apology all the more important.
Whatever the nature of your experience growing up, you share an understanding, a shared experience, a common bond; only you can truly understand what it is like to go through life for years—decades even—knowing that there is a missing piece. What was done to you, what was taken from you, the denial of a mother’s love and the kinship of your blood brothers and sisters, was wrong, and, on behalf of this parliament, which shares in the responsibility for these actions, we are sorry.
While the centrepiece of this apology is an acceptance and an expression of sorrow for the denial of informed consent when children were taken from mothers at birth, its terms are broad, and with good reason. I commend the government for the framing of this motion. We are apologising for a wide range of practices that have caused hurt and distress. We are apologising for a range of practices that have led to a varied set of experiences.
My own experience was to grow up knowing a beautiful, loving big sister. She was adopted with love by our father and her mother. She has done well in life. She has been successful in her career. She has the most beautiful, charming and caring daughter that any of you here are ever likely to meet. However, what I could not have understood growing up was her sense that there was a missing piece in her life. Nearly 30 years later, she discovered that she had been separated at birth from her twin brother who now lived across the country. Last night she wrote to me on Facebook, in a sign of the times, with her thoughts on what we are doing today. She said:
It is such an important day for all adoptees, their adopted families and their mothers that gave up their babies so many years ago. Tomorrow—
this was written last night—
is a day to reflect on the past. I have been one of the lucky ones who have found both my twin brother…and also been able to tell our birth mother that we do not blame her for what has happened in the past and that we look forward to the future as brother and sister. Thank you for your support in this.
Despite not knowing each other for nearly the first 30 years of their lives, they have a bond of iron that stretches from Perth to Brisbane.
Twins were separated at birth all over the world, just as they were in South Australia, but that does not make it right. That does not make it acceptable. For that, and for so many other practices undertaken in our community by our government and non-government institutions with the endorsement of the parliaments of the day, either tacitly or overtly, we are sorry.
Members of parliament on both sides over the last several months in particular, but for a number of years before, have heard so many stories from mothers and adoptees about things that have happened to their families: stories of mothers prevented from seeing their child during and after childbirth; stories of mums hearing their babies’ cries and wanting to hold them but being denied; stories of mums who could not hear their babies’ cries and wanting to find out why but who were held down and denied the opportunity; stories of mothers drugged to reduce their resistance to the coercion and drugged to dry up their milk.
In originally moving this motion encouraging the government to undertake this apology on 29 March, I said that in addition to the lack of financial support provided to unwed mothers there were also cases where they were subjected to grooming by those around them and pressure, including from state institutions. Moved from their community into the confines of a home, women were told that adoption was the right thing to do and the best thing for the child. Women had the details of their pregnancy and the future of their child concealed, while alternatives to adoption and information on potential financial assistance was often withheld. Relinquishing a child for adoption was often a traumatic process, and mothers have detailed their accounts to us and to the Senate inquiry, and the minister, the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition have detailed some of those accounts today.
In many cases consent was surrendered under duress, others were denied the right to revoke consent and some had the right to consent withheld altogether. There is no excuse that it is based on the understanding, the morality, of the time. There were people at the time who were saying that these practices were wrong. There is record of that. There was no Christian morality in what was going on there. I have had calls recently to be reminded of the Ten Commandments in relation to another matter, and I can tell you that commandment 4 is, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ These children, these adoptees, were denied the opportunity to do that. Commandment 7 is, ‘Thou shall not steal.’ These children were stolen. There was no morality in this.
The value of an apology is important. It is a moment of healing, reconciliation and opportunity for the parliament to demonstrate to those who are hurt that we have respect for you and that you are vindicated—those who have felt hurt all these years. When we as individuals going about our business commit a wrong we apologise, and when an institution commits a wrong its representatives must apologise, and we do so today.
We follow in the steps of the first apology of this nature in Australia undertaken on 9 June 2009 by the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the Western Australian parliament on 19 October 2010, a number of other non-government institutions and churches that have done so since then, the Senate inquiry reporting in February (and I look forward to further activity at a federal level), the support of the Liberal party room, the Greens, the Labor party room, the government and bipartisan support in this house.
It is a time for healing and reconciliation, and we applaud those who have had the courage to come forward and to contribute to this apology. I conclude by reflecting the words of the Premier earlier:
This South Australian parliament recognises that the lives of many members of the South Australian community have been adversely affected by adoption practices which have caused deep distress and hurt, especially for mothers and their sons and daughters, who are now adults.
We recognise that past adoption practices have profoundly affected the lives of not only these people but also fathers, grandparents, siblings, partners and other family members.
We accept with profound sorrow that many mothers did not give informed consent to the adoption of their children.
To those mothers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for their children, we are deeply sorry.
We recognise that practices of our past mean that there are some members of our community who remain disconnected from their families of origin.
To [the adoptees] who were denied the opportunity to be loved and cared for by their families of origin, we are deeply sorry.
To those people who were disbelieved for so long, we hear you now; we acknowledge your pain, and we offer you our unreserved and sincere regret and sorrow for those injustices.
To all those hurt, we say sorry.
Honourable members: Hear, hear!