National Sorry Day: Victoria’s Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme progresses 23 years on

By Lauren Penny and Kerry Arabena

The 26th of May 2021 marks 23 years since Australia’s first National Sorry Day – a day to remember and acknowledge the ‘grief, suffering and injustice‘ experienced by the Stolen Generations. The first National Sorry Day was held one year after the landmark Bringing them Home report was tabled in Parliament, which was the result of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families.

The Inquiry focused on:

  • the past laws, practices and policies, and their effects;
  • the adequacy of, and the need for any changes in, the current laws, practices and policies relating to those First Nations’ peoples who were affected by the forcible removal of children from their families;
  • the principles relevant to determining the justification for compensation for those affected by the separations; and
  • the current laws, practices and policies regarding the placement and care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and any changes required, particularly considering the principle of self-determination.

The report outlined 54 recommendations made by the Inquiry, including that reparation be made to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who suffered because of forcible removal policies. The Inquiry recommended that reparation should include acknowledgement and apology; guarantees against repetition; restitution and rehabilitation; and monetary compensation. Despite this, the response of the Australian Government at the time was to reject many of the key recommendations, ‘in particular the need for a formal apology and for reparations. While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology in 2008, the Australian Government continued to oppose establishing a national process for compensation, maintaining that it was the responsibility of state and territory governments.

In 2018, the National Redress Scheme was established to provide support to people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse, including those in the Stolen Generations. However, last year a Joint Select Committee heard that the scheme is not meeting the needs of members of the Stolen Generations, and ‘not all aspects of the redress process are survivor focussed, accessible, culturally safe and meet the needs of particularly vulnerable survivors’.

In March of last year, 12 years after Kevin Rudd’s National Apology and more than two decades after the Bringing them Home report was tabled, the Victorian Government announced a $10 million Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme. This came after years of lobbying from First Nations’ communities across the state, with Victoria being the last state in Australia to ‘move to establish a redress scheme‘. Despite Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ statement that ‘it’s never too late to do the right thing‘, the ageing population of the Stolen Generations has meant that many survivors have died without ever being compensated, with their descendants also missing out on reparations. 

Survivors of the Stolen Generations and their families have continued to experience ‘accumulating levels of disadvantage‘ compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The aim of the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme is to identify the aspirations and inclusions that will go some way toward making amends for the pain and suffering that Victorian Stolen Generations experienced due to separation from family, community, culture, and country.

Karabena Consulting was one of three Indigenous-led consulting teams engaged by the Stolen Generations Reparations Steering Committee to facilitate a state-wide consultation process undertaken to include in the development of a model for reparations. Our upcoming report details the findings of the consultations and outlines recommendations for consideration of the Steering Committee. As a result of these community consultations, the Victorian Government has established a $300,000 Interim Funeral Fund designed by the Steering Committee ‘to ensure the families of members of Stolen Generations can access financial support to cover funeral expenses to honour their loved ones’. We look forward to seeing the progress of the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme and further recommendations implemented.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge the courageous conversations and invaluable contribution of those who participated in our yarning circles throughout this process. Without your input, guidance and honesty, we wouldn’t have as much insight of our communities’ Lived Experiences and potential solutions to work towards. We have no doubt that your input will directly contribute to the development of a culturally safe and Stolen Generations supportive reparations model.

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