15 years later, Dutton says sorry for shunning stolen generations apology

15 years later, Dutton says sorry for shunning stolen generations apology


Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has apologised to Indigenous Australians from the floor of parliament for abstaining from the bipartisan apology to the stolen generations in 2008, declaring he failed to grasp the symbolic significance of the move.

In a major statement at a time of heightened debate on the Indigenous Voice, the Opposition Leader admitted he got it wrong when he chose not to attend the apology delivered by then-prime minister Kevin Rudd and backed by all major parties.

Opposition Leader Peter DuttonCredit:Alex Ellinghuasen

He made the remarks in a formal speech to mark the anniversary of the apology, moments after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urged support for the Voice and warned the gap in Indigenous health and welfare was turning into a chasm.

“I want to speak directly to those in the gallery today and further afield who are part of the stolen generations and those who are descendants or are connected with the issue,” Dutton said to the House of Representatives, as dozens of Indigenous people watched from the public gallery.

“I say, in an unscripted way, I apologise for my actions.

“I didn’t attend the chamber for the apology. I’ve apologised for that in the past and I repeat that apology here today.”

The remarks were greeted with silence from the galleries and the other MPs assembled in the chamber, including Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney, Labor senator and Aboriginal elder Pat Dodson and most ministers.

Dutton said he made a mistake with the apology when he became opposition leader in May 2022 but his comments in the House on Monday were significant in being addressed directly to Indigenous Australians on the anniversary of the apology and at a time of debate over the Voice.

The Opposition Leader told parliament his view 15 years ago was shaped by his time as a police officer in Queensland and his belief that the apology should not be made unless there was practical progress on crime and welfare for Indigenous Australians.

At the time, he said his view was shaped by a concern that the government could have to pay billions of dollars in compensation to the stolen generations.

“It would beggar belief that they would be contemplating an apology that could open the government up to serious damages claims without knowing what those claims would be,” he said in 2008.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, top, applauds members of Australia’s Stolen Generation in the public gallery after delivering his apology speech 15 years ago. Credit:AP POOL

Dutton later revealed he offered his resignation to then-opposition leader Brendan Nelson because he was a frontbencher and had broken with the Coalition policy to support the apology.

On Monday, however, he commended Rudd for making the apology.

“I failed to grasp at the time the symbolic significance to the stolen generations of the apology.

“It was right for prime minister Rudd to make the apology in 2008. It’s right that we recognise the anniversary today. It’s right that the government continues its efforts and, in whatever way possible, we support that bipartisan effort.”

Arabana elder embraces former prime minister Kevin Rudd during the breakfast for the 15th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Burney, speaking directly after Dutton, said the apology was about healing and the stolen generations deserved nothing less.

“For some, the apology was something to reject. And, of course, we all learn and we all grow,” Burney said.

“I thank the leader of the opposition for his apology today. It is a good thing that we grow and we learn.”

While Rudd did not attend the speeches in parliament, he spoke earlier in the day to an event in the Great Hall of Parliament House and was greeted with hugs and handshakes from First Australians at the event.

Arabana elder Aunty Martha Watts was one of those who greeted Rudd when he entered the event.

In his speech, Rudd reflected on the “uncomfortable history” of 410 documented massacres that were erased from popular and political consciousness.

“It’s the mark of a mature nation and a mature nation when we recognise from the past, both the good and the bad,” Rudd said.

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