The History of NSDC
On 26 May 1997, the Bringing them home Report was tabled in the Federal Parliament. As well as revealing a painful and previously hidden chapter of Australia's history, the Report made a wide range of recommendations, including that compensation should be paid as part of comprehensive reparations to the Stolen Generations. This aroused a great deal of public discussion as it included that governments of the day should say sorry to those who suffered under the forcible removal policies through a formal apology. The report also recommended there be a national 'Sorry Day' held each year.
Amidst this national debate, Aboriginal people set up a National Stolen Generation Working Group. They invited non-Indigenous people to join with them to set up a National Sorry Day committee. Ningali Cullen (aka Audrey Kinnear) was amongst this group, as was the NSDC’s first Indigenous Co Chair, Carol Kendall, and first non-Indigenous Co Chair, Reverend Dr John Brown. All over Australia, state committees and support groups planned a wide range of events. On Australia Day 1998, the advocacy group Australians for Native Title launched the Sorry Book campaign, which gave hundreds of thousands of Australians from all walks of life the chance to offer their personal apology and say sorry.
The inaugural Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998 - the anniversary of the day the Bringing them home Report was tabled. As Carol Kendall said 'The ceremony will validate the experiences of removed people and celebrate the strength, resilience and determination of those who survived these policies.'
Appendix B of the then Australian Human Rights and Equality Commission's 'Bringing them home: Implementation Progress Report' details the official text of the statement concerning this first ever Sorry Day.
The National Sorry Day Committee - or NSDC as it is often known - was formally established on this same day to bring about the full implementation of the Bringing them home Report’s 54 recommendations, including a full reparations package for the Stolen Generations, their families and their communities.
At the suggestion of Ningali Cullen, the Journey of Healing was launched on 26 May 1999, which involved the establishment of healing initiatives for Stolen Generations survivors across the country. The Journey of Healing brought thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians together through their participation in these healing initiatives.
As well as campaigning for the implementation of the Bringing them home Report’s recommendations, the NSDC (a committee of dedicated volunteers, but with no staff) along with the organisation’s network of members and delegates across Australia continued to build momentum by holding events to commemorate National Sorry Day and to motivate communities across the country to do the same. When the National Sorry Day Committee's Indigenous Co-Chair, Carol Kendall, became too ill to continue in her position, Ningali Cullen was elected to take her place.
Over the next 10 years the NSDC continued to build awareness of the Stolen Generations both in Australia and internationally, of the trauma and injustices they have faced as detailed in the Bringing them home Report, and of the need for Federal, State and Territory governments of Australia to respond to and implement the fifty four recommendations of the Report. Between 2000 and 2007, the NSDC focussed its attention especially on the need for a formal apology to the Stolen Generations from the Federal Government.
By 2001, each State and Territory government had issued a full apology to the Stolen Generations (as recommended in the Bringing them home Report), but the Federal Government had not, with then Prime Minister John Howard refusing time and time again to issue an apology on behalf of the nation.
At the launch of the ‘Us taken away kids’ report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Sydney on 11 December 2007, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin announced a commitment by the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to apologise to the Stolen Generations, and to ‘framing this apology, both the language and the nature of the apology, in a consultative and respectful way’. NSDC members advocated strongly for a full package of measures to accompany the apology, including compensation.
Former NSDC Indigenous Co Chair Helen Moran lobbied tirelessly, arguing that it must be truly meaningful to the Stolen Generations, and that it recognise the ongoing need for the Bringing them home Report’s recommendations to be fully implemented. Ultimately, the NSDC’s advice on the wording of the Apology delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13 February 2008 helped to ensure that tangible references to the Stolen Generations and to the need for healing and reconciliation were made – in spite of the fact that the Federal Government would not agree to monetary compensation.
Every February since the Apology, the NSDC has held Anniversary of the Apology events in Canberra and Sydney – encouraging others to do the same across Australia.
In the lead up to the Apology, the NSDC also took the decision to launch the 'WALK Your TALK and Bring Them Home' 10 year campaign, which was due to run from 2007 to 2017. The purpose of the campaign was to sustain and build on the energy, awareness and momentum created by the Apology, and to ensure that the original recommendations of the Bringing them home Report were implemented and not forgotten. As well as lobbying government, the campaign strengthened NSDC's reach into schools through the Australian Schools National Sorry Day Program.
Whilst the Apology represented a significant step toward healing and reconciliation, the NSDC designed the campaign as a means of holding the government to account for exploring options for compensation, reparations, the return of stolen wages, and the provision of trauma support and healing initiatives to the Stolen Generations. Without real action of this kind, the NSDC argued that the Apology would be remembered by many Stolen Generations survivors as a tokenistic gesture by a government unwilling to back up its words with action.
This notion led to the development of the NSDC’s 'SORRY. Still Living on Borrowed Time!' campaign, the purpose of which has been to draw attention to the fact that the majority of Stolen Generations survivors are now Elders and senior citizens, and that there is little time remaining for them to see the recommendations of the Bringing them home Report implemented – especially those related to compensation measures.
The change in national government and the Apology afforded the NSDC an opportunity to lobby for increases in funding and the development of new government programs that would address the need for family reunification services, healing initiatives, and culturally competent counselling services for the Stolen Generations.
Through its engagement with the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) and the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA), the NSDC played a part in influencing the government’s decision to increase funding to $25 million per year for family reunion services for Stolen Generations’ members and Bringing Them Home Counsellors (a funding increase of 50 per cent between 2007–08 and 2009–10).
In 2010, the Stolen Generations Working Partnership was established, providing the NSDC with an opportunity to engage Federal Government departments as well as like-minded non-government organisations in dialogue and discussion on how best to meet the needs of the Stolen Generations. The Working Partnership has provided the NSDC with an opportunity to re-focus attention on some of the most pressing and unaddressed recommendations of the Bringing them home Report, transforming them into priority policy areas for Federal Government attention.
In 2011, the NSDC successfully lobbied for significant improvements in the national History Curriculum to include Stolen Generations history from early primary school through to senior high school.
The NSDC also secured its first fixed office space, recruiting an Executive Officer as the organisation’s first full time member of staff responsible for the management of financial, legal, personnel, and administrative operations as well as organisational strategic planning. The positions of Policy Advisor and Projects Manager were also recruited for later in 2011 and in 2012, signalling a steady growth in the capacity of the organisation to build on its presence as an advocate for the Stolen Generations.