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Apology for forced adoption

Briefs

Cite as: October 2012 86 (10) LIJ, p.10

Elizabeth Brew is adamant about what the federal government’s forced adoption apology needs to say.

As a mother directly affected by the forced adoption practices prevalent in Australia from the 1950s to the 1970s – practices which saw about 250,000 mothers forced to relinquish their babies against their will – Ms Brew wants any apology to recognise the breaches of common law rights that occurred.

She is representing forced adoption support group Origins Inc on the government’s Forced Adoption Apology Reference Group charged with drafting the national apology and told the LIJ it was not enough to say the practices were unethical.

“We have set the bar high for the reference group and we will not accept anything that is not a candid admission of the breaches of common law that occurred,” she said. “We have no intention of accepting anything that is a whitewash and we don’t want any reference to the social mores.”

Origins has rejected several forced adoption apologies to date including that offered by the Western Australian government in 2010.

As a 15-year-old, Ms Brew was placed in a home for unmarried mothers shortly after her parents discovered she was pregnant.

A few hours after the birth of her son she woke up to discover her breasts were bound. It was not until 2008 when she gained access to her records did she learn her file was marked “baby to be removed”. After his birth, she was only permitted to see her son for an hour a day until he was removed for adoption a week later.

She said the trauma suffered had affected her ever since.

Earlier this year, a Commonwealth Senate Committee Inquiry recommended state and territory governments and non-government institutions issue formal apologies.

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon formed a reference group to word the apology and gave those directly affected an opportunity to have their say. “I cannot even begin to imagine what these mothers, fathers and their now adult children have endured,” Ms Roxon said. “But what I can do is provide an opportunity for them to have a say in how the government frames the apology.”

LIV president Michael Holcroft does not expect the federal apology to trigger a wave of compensation claims. “I expect any apology on forced adoption to be very similar to the apology made to the stolen generation.”

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