All Newsletters : September 2001 : Lost Innocents: Righting the Record
Lost Innocents: Righting the Record
On 30 August, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee released the report of its nearly year long Inquiry into Child Migration. The report describes as a “very sorry chapter in Australia’s history” the policies and practices which, over a 30 year period, led to thousands of young children being uprooted from their country of origin to be sent to a country in which their needs, safety and wellbeing were too often “completely disregarded”. The report’s 33 recommendations are broad-ranging in their scope, seeking, not only to right the record of Australia’s role in child migration schemes in the past, but also to redress the personal consequences which for many former child migrants live on to this day.
The Senate Inquiry into Child Migration validates the harsh reality of the experiences of many former child migrants at the hands of those who were charged with their care. It also vindicates their long battle to have their story heard and acted upon.
The report of the Senate Inquiry makes 33 recommendations in all. (A full copy of the recommendations is included as an insert with this newsletter). Many of the recommendations are leveled at the Commonwealth Government identifying its responsibility to correct the consequences of the wrongs perpetrated by its predecessors. Most relate to the need to support former child migrants in tracing their family histories and to reunite with family members in their countries of origin. Others recognize the ongoing need for counseling and for practical support with education, housing and re-building relationship programs.
Recommendation 30 (summarized) calls on the Commonwealth Government to issue a formal statement acknowledging that previous child migration schemes were wrong and expressing deep sorrow and regret for the harm and suffering that resulted from them.
“The British and Australian Governments entered into agreements for the migration of children to Australia. The Australian Government was the legislated guardian of the children but then transferred responsibility for their care to State Governments. In turn the State Governments transferred responsibility to receiving agencies. The responsibility was transferred but in many cases the duty of care and protection was not... State Governments were unable or unwilling to ensure the protection of the children”.
Prologue Senate Inquiry into Child Migration
In its EDITORIAL on 5 September, the WEST AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER has described the tabling of the Senate report on Child Migration as offering “a closure of sorts to a dark time in our country’s social history”. The editorial goes on to comment that the report provides “a bleak register of the pain and misery endured by children sent to start a new life in post-World War II Australia”.
“For many, though not all, their arrival was the start of years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse… Some children were told their parents had died, and parents were told that their children had died. Letters were not passed on and records were falsified, complicating and sometimes destroying any subsequent chance of families being reunited…
“The former migrants have had to fight hard to make the world listen. The sheer horror of their experiences make dismissing them, or passing the blame to someone else, an easier option”.
Affirming that one of the most important results of the report has been to demonstrate that the stories of former child migrants have now been heard and believed, the editorial calls on the Federal Government to accept the Inquiry’s main recommendations ensuring that damaged victims are helped to find their families where this is still possible, and that they be offered specialist counseling to deal with their continuing distress… “It’s not a lot to ask”.