16 Nov 2009

Rudd says sorry to Forgotten Australians

9:23 pm on 16 November 2009

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has given an emotional apology to the country's "forgotten Australians", many of whom gathered at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday.

Almost 1,000 men and women from all over Australia gathered in Parliament's Great Hall in Canberra to hear Mr Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull apologise for the abuse, neglect and suffering they endured in foster care and orphanages between the 1920s and 1970s.

The ceremony was televised and celebrations were held throughout Australia.

Children deported from Britain under its Child Migrants Programme are among about 500,000 children who grew up in government-run institutions and foster care in Australia.

From 1920-1967, about 150,000 white working class children were sent away for a "better life" to help populate Britain's former colonies, including New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Some were told they were orphans before being deported without their parents' consent.

In Australia, most ended up in institutions, or were made to work as farm labourers, and many were physically and sexually abused. Only decades later did they find out that their parents were still alive.

Mr Rudd said Australia is sorry for the physical suffering and emotional starvation during the children's forced care. He said the nation looked back in shame at the "great evil" that had been done.

"To you, the Forgotten Australians and those who were sent to our shores as children without their consent ... we are sorry."

Amid loud cheers from the audience Mr Rudd said the

apology represented a turning point for "shattered lives" and the nation's political leadership.

Many of those in the audience were in tears during Mr Rudd's and Mr Turnbull's speeches.

Caroline Carroll, of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, says it is overdue recognition for the pain of the past and she sees it as "a celebration of survival".

The Uniting Church of Australia has welcomed the government's apology. It says the church has also acknowledged and apologised for its role in harmful care practices and congratulates the government for taking the step.