The first Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998—the anniversary of the tabling of the report—and it has been held annually ever since.
Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (10:36): I rise to mark National Sorry Day. In so doing, I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri peoples, the custodians of the land on which we meet. I also acknowledge the first nations peoples of the land in and around Brisbane—the Ugarapul, Yuggera, Jagera and Turrbal peoples. I pay my respects to elders past and present.
National Sorry Day is an annual day of commemoration and remembrance of all those who have been impacted by the government policies of forcible removal that have resulted in the Stolen Generations—that is the description from the National Sorry Day Committee. This year Sorry Day will be marked locally on Brisbane's South Side with the annual Sorry Day Breakfast to be held on Saturday at 9 am, at the Sorry Day plaque at Orleigh Park, Hill End.
Labor has long acknowledged the Stolen Generations. In his 1992 Redfern address, then Prime Minister Paul Keating acknowledged the removal of Indigenous children from their mothers. The Bringing them home report was tabled in our nation's parliament on 26 May 1997. The report called for 'a national 'Sorry Day' to be celebrated each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects.'
The then Labor leader Kim Beazley sought to move that, on behalf of the nation, the House unreservedly apologises to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians for the separation policies. But sadly, then Prime Minister John Howard refused to give the apology that was needed. Instead, he supported a motion of regret.
It was a difficult time. Pauline Hanson had given her first speech to the House only a few months before, complaining about so-called reverse racism and the support given to Aboriginal people. The then Prime Minister John Howard responded weakly, saying:
"Well, I certainly believe in her right to say what she said. I thought some of the things she said were an accurate reflection of what people feel."
The view that the right to say racist things is more important than the right not to suffer racism is coming back into fashion under the new coalition government, the Abbott government. We have seen the proposal for radical changes to hate speech laws that the current Attorney-General has defended by saying that people have the right to be a bigot. It is a sad reflection on the state of the debate but, more importantly, it is a situation where you have got a current-day Attorney-General repeating the failures of the coalitions of the past where Mr Howard failed to give a strong rebuke to Pauline Hanson for racism. I, like many of my colleagues, do not believe that the right to be a bigot is more important than the right not to suffer racism.
Despite the Howard government's refusal to apologise its willingness to look the other way when it came to Hansonism, a national movement for reparation and apology took hold in the wake of the Bringing them home report.
The first Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998—the anniversary of the tabling of the report—and it has been held annually ever since. When Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave his apology, he acknowledged the Stolen Generations.