Address to the Summit of Stolen Generations Elders Adelaide 26 October 2018

Address to the Summit of Stolen Generations Elders Adelaide 26 October 2018

Can I say it’s tremendous to be here with you. It’s not often we get the chance to stop and think about the things that have been both historical policies but they’re contemporary issues that still face us.


In West Australian Noongar language I say kaya wangju - hello and welcome. I acknowledge the Traditional custodians for the land on which we meet, the Kuarna Plains people and pay my respects to Elders past and present. 


And Uncle Frank, I want to thank you for your welcome to country. The Wanganeen family is well known because of its sporting prowess in my own home state. I also want to acknowledge Stephen Wade who has become a good friend and colleague in the work that I’m doing at the national level. Dr Kaye Patterson who is a ball of energy and just dynamic in what she is advocating for senior Australians. 


To Dr Roger Thomas who - when he and I both started together - had hair that was black and I had brown hair and we both have changed so much and it’s great to be back with you again brother. 


I acknowledge:

Dr Jenni Caruso, Adelaide University

Richard Weston, CEO of the Healing Foundation

Amanda Mitchell Deputy CEO of the Aboriginal Health Council of SA

Louise Lavrencic and Terry Donovan from NeuRA Aboriginal Health and Ageing

Cassie Mason from South Australia’s Office for the Ageing

Shirley Peasley, Chair of Aboriginal community services

Melanie Robinson, Education Officer from the Legal Service Commission

Rohan Carmody, from Link Up Program Nunkuwarrin Yunti Inc


It is an honour to be able to join you today to talk about the immense importance of positive ageing and aged care for our Stolen Generations. Because I keep saying to people: don’t tell me you’re old, you’re 60. Tell me you’re old when you hit 90 and that’s what we’ve got to aim for, is a long life and take care of ourselves in that journey to living to 100 because we are now seeing our people living much longer than what we used to because of health, because of community and because of family connections.


One of the best parts of my job is being able to meet and hear your concerns and listen to your ideas. Our shared history is that of the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their home and their country. Official policies that have been in our governments from 1910 through to 1972.


This period and the trauma associated with it continues to have a profound and lasting impact; impacting on the Stolen Generations, their descendants, and Australian society as whole. My mother is from the Stolen Generation. She was enrolled in this mission when I was born. Her brothers and sisters were put into different missions. They didn’t catch up with each other until after they were released from their missions and they came together as family.


But what I noticed as a young man is that family connection wasn’t as strong as the family of mission kids. So they had two families. Families of those who walked and shared a life together in the context of where they grew up. 


When I was in New South Wales, I used to listen to some of the Wiradjeri boys, men whose journeys were harrowing and they talked of two families and taught me much about the importance of both.


This has been a landmark week, an emotional week for many members of the Stolen Generations. On Monday the Prime Minister led the government, the Parliament along with Bill Shorten the leader of the Opposition and all Australians in unreservedly apologising to the victims and the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.


We know that more than 14 per cent of the respondents to the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse were our people. And the adverse effects on them were overwhelming and that was demonstrated in the Great Hall through the emotion that I witnessed from so many. 


As the Prime Minister said, for too many years our eyes and hearts were closed to the truth the children told. For too many years’ governments and institutions refused to acknowledge the tragedies and the largely hidden within the walls of the institutions, and the hidden from the Australian community.


But there were those outside who knew but did nothing. We now have come to reckon with the past and to commit to protecting children now and into the future.


Whilst the apology by the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was the salve and the healing stage in our lives, it doesn’t remove the pain and suffering of trauma inflicted on individuals and the survivors; children who evidence shows are impacted by what happened to parents who experienced the Stolen Generation years and its profound and ongoing effects. 


Every child deserves care and protection, instead we saw the very people in the institutions entrusted with their care fail them.


Concurrent with the national apology, I thank the Healing Foundation for releasing on Monday Looking Where the Light Is: creating and restoring safety and healing report. It highlights what we all know, the importance of giving back the connection to our culture. 


Ensuring every one of us is connected to family, community and country, our sense of belonging, and our obligations and responsibilities to each other.


The report says the Healing Foundation’s experience indicates a need for healing to support trauma recovery across all key pillars: safety, identity, reconnection, and trauma awareness. 


It finds individuals, families, elders, services and partners are important in identifying our own strengths, resources, issues and solutions, and developing responses together. Our elders are fundamental to this process and how they are cared for, protected, respected and revered as they age is critical. 


Another recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generation and their descendants, also led by the Healing Foundation, is a significant step forward in our work to improve health equality in closing the gaps in our lives.


It highlights the barriers and challenges First Nations Elders face in accessing aged care services. Before this report, we did not have clear data on the number of surviving Stolen Generation members. We know that in 2018 there are approximately 17,150 and that there are more than 115,000 descendants of the Stolen Generation. We also know that 67 per cent of people like you, the surviving Generation members live with a disability or a restrictive long term condition and 39 per cent over the age of 50 report poor mental health. We also know that approximately 66 per cent of Stolen Generation people were aged 50 years and over in 2014/15, meaning that by 2023 many of you will be looking into aged care. 


A lot of considered work is underway to prepare our aged care system to meet your needs. Working together we must ensure that the aged care system is flexible, non-discriminatory and inclusive of our elders who are among some of the most vulnerable members of our community.


And I have met with the Stolen Generation members who have said to me: I do not want to go into aged care because it will remind me of the institution from whence I came when I was a child and so I need to look at options that are very different to what we currently offer.


We are committed to providing all senior Australians with high quality and culturally appropriate, safe and compassionate care. New models are needed. Virtual reality aged care facilities may have to exist.


All models that are premised on what comes out of discussions with the members of the Stolen Generation and those who need the services over the coming years. Care that supports healthy aging, respects independence and reflects the diversity of our community. 


The vast majority of people working in the aged care sector are doing a wonderful job day in and day out, caring for senior Australians in general. They are professional and compassionate people providing care for the people who built this nation, and I thank them for that work.


Although, recently we’ve heard about some very disturbing and unacceptable incidents of neglect and abuse of people in aged care. Our government, and indeed all Australians, will not tolerate our Elders being neglected, harmed, ignored, or enduring discrimination. 


Our work to tackle elder abuse includes our commitment to the Older Persons Advocacy Network, major quality reforms like the establishment of the new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and recently announced Royal Commission into the aged care sector. 


There is an advisory body to the quality commission and I want to ensure that I have an Indigenous Australian appointed to that body to provide advice, and I will look to having an elder who has been part of the Stolen Generation to be on that body to provide the advice that is needed for Government.


And I want our people to make submissions to the Royal Commission. 


It is about a cultural and structural change to the age care sector of Australia. And we have to make sure that your views are inputted in order for the changes that they will recommend to reflect our people’s needs. 


The Royal Commission will help shape the future of the aged care sector, however, our reforms to prevent elder abuse and expand aged care choice will continue at full pace even as the Royal Commission goes about its critical work. And the mistreatment of senior Australians is everyone’s business. Our elders deserve dignity, respect, and compassion. 


Recently, I announced that we would be expanding our investment in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care program by more than $105 million through to 2022. With this funding, organisations are able to provide culturally appropriate aged care to help keep our elders within our regional communities. As part of this measure, I recently announced more than 900 additional places for elders in remote areas who will have access to a residential and home aged care service close to family in country. 


Connection to country is a fundamental pillar of our identity, and ever more so as we grow older. Disconnection from country when we are ageing and becoming more vulnerable is painful and heartbreaking and even more challenging for our health in later years.


That’s why I was proud to fund and support organisations like Purple House which have shown the way through community based holistic services, strong and effective governance. 


Current major expansion of on country kidney dialysis will increase across parts of South Australia, the Northern Territory, and parts of WA. We want people to go back to country, being with family and being in their communities to receive the dialysis that they need. 


Purple House now provides 70 per cent of the Central Australian Dialysis Services. And it’s not only changing lives, its vast program has saved many more because patients don’t have to leave their families and communities for treatment.


Recent clinical data shows mortality rates for people on dialysis in central Australia is now less than half the rate the rest of the nation; remaining on or returning to the land and our spiritual home. And the places of our families now, ancestors, go a long way to promoting better health in our elder years.


What may seem like simple things go a long way in ensuring aged care services are culturally comfortable and they strike an accord with local residents. For example, it’s about ensuring the buildings our appropriate for our doctors.


These measures, along with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People Action Plan being developed under the Aged Care Diversity Framework, focus on ways that aged care providers can address specific barriers and challenges that affect our elders in seeking aged care services


Aged care providers need to be particularly sensitive to the complex needs of our Stolen Generation. They must understand the role of Elders in Aboriginal cultures as community leaders and keepers and communicators of wisdom. 


Our elders are our living cultural history books, whose knowledge and teaching skills ensure that our culture continues to live. If we have survived 65,000 years in a country that has changed dramatically, then it has to be attributed to the fact that our Elders – as the wisdom keepers – and our parents gave us the knowledge and the understanding to keep us in the essence of who we are. 


What we’re committed to is a system that puts each individual at the centre, a system that doesn’t assume that a particular way of doing things will work for everyone. We must have a system that celebrates and caters for our diversity and our differences in culture and spirituality. 


I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this important summit. And I wish you all the best in your discussions. But I also want to thank all of those involved in bringing today together, for the work that you have done and the recognition that you give our Elders and our people.


Because when I first met your organisation, I was impressed with the fact that you were focused at a grassroots level.


What you have done and achieved, along with your terrific team, has made an incredible difference to people here in South Australia. So, I congratulate you and acknowledge you for what you’ve done.


And to all the Elders in the room, I thank you for your wisdom; I thank you for what you have done for the generations that have come after you. I thank you for what we will continue to do together.


Thank you all very much.