Learning from the Past: When Goverment deems it appropriate and when it does not

It took decades for mothers to achieve the NSW Upper House Inquiry into Past Adoption Practices (1998-2000)  and then the Federal Senate Inquiry (2011-2012). These Inquiries foregrounded a shameful part of  women’s history that had been hidden away for decades and impacted approximately a quarter of a million mothers. Many of who died early because of stress related illnesses or committed suicide.  The majority who have survived do so suffering complex PTSD.  Callously amongst some member of government there still seems indifference and the intent to hide the truth or to diminish the barbarity of what really happened.

For instance there are over 300 accounts given by mothers  to the  NSW Inquiry that have not been made public.  Women were willing to open up very painful wounds on the belief that their doing so would educate  the public about what really happened: that their newborns were stolen and they had never willingly gave them up for adoption. At the outset of the Inquiry mothers were asked to mark their Submissions  confidential if they did not want them made public. This was thought necessary because some mothers may have wanted to remain anonymous or what was more likely the case because there were instances where the information was too sensitive. One such example would have been if the mother knew her taken child, now an adult, had been sexually and/or physically abused growing up.   One might want  this information be made available to government so politicians might learn about the unintended consequences of flawed social policy, but not want such personal information made available to the public.

I wrote to Pru Goward in 2012 and asked if  the submissions could be put on the public record. The Labor Opposition Leader, John Robertson, wrote to Goward on my behalf, also making that request.  Goward refused stating that at sometime during the Inquiry the Senate Committee decided to make all the submissions confidential.  This information was never disclosed to the mothers nor was it ever discussed.  It seems that even at that time there was an effort to ‘keep a lid’ on the information contained in the submissions.

The National Archives which has been funded to collect data to enable an accurate rendering of the history of past Forced Adoption in this country does not have access to these mothers’ accounts. Therefore misses out on  this valuable source of historical data.  One may even state that without the accounts the National Archives cannot fully realize its brief.

Lets contrast the above with the government’s tackling of the four deaths attributed to the Home Installation Scheme.

The Home Installation scheme, which was initially introduced as part of a suite of programmes to combat climate change, was then incorporated into a larger package of measures to stimulate the economy in order to avoid a recession when the GFC hit.  Sadly many business sprang up which hired young, inexperienced installers and  did not implement adequate safety measures. As a result four young men died of electrocution.[1]

Tony Abbott on the Royal Commission into Home Installation and the making of secret cabinet documents public:[2]

Reporter:  Does this fundamentally change Cabinet secrecy when a Royal Commission can now have it exposed?

“Nothing is going to change, the vigour, the candour, ultimately the constructiveness of Cabinet conversations … In respect of this particular Royal Commission, I think it is important, that this Royal Commission be supported and encouraged to get to the bottom of what happened here because lets face it,  this is the most disastrous domestic programme that the Commonwealth Government has every been responsible for we have got to the learn the lessons and frankly if Mr. Rudd can speak freely and have access to relevant documentation, if the other Ministers and officials can speak freely and have access to relevant documentation that surely helps the Royal Commission to do its work”.

Reporter: So you’re not worried about a future Government holding a Royal Commission about something that has happened under your watch and all the Cabinet documents being made public?

Abbott:  “Well I am confident that we won’t run a ‘roof bats’ style disaster and frankly if we ever do it ought to be investigated.”

[1] Former PM Kevin Rudd giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Home Insulation, Brisbane, 15 May, 2014 – Sky News

[2] Sky News National, Prime Minister Tony Abbott interview, 15 May, 2014, 10.27 a.m.



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For Bio info click on - About - tab and 'A bit about me' Dr. Christine A. Cole Convenor Apology Alliance Australia
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