Apr 15 2008 | AUSTRALIA
Some Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents and put into institutions were used to test medical treatments, a Senate inquiry has been told.
Greens senator Bob Brown said he was “shocked and alarmed” by the allegations, heard by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee’s inquiry into a Stolen Generation Compensation Bill 2008.
On the first day of hearings in Darwin, Kathleen Mills from the Stolen Generations Alliance said the public did not know the full extent of what happened to some children. And efforts to obtain records that support the claims, such as that children were injected with serums to gauge their reaction to the medication, had been hampered, she said.
“These are the things that have not been spoken about,” Ms Mills told the inquiry.” As well as being taken away, they were used … there are a lot of things that Australia does not know about.”
Outside the inquiry, Ms Mills said her uncle had been a medical orderly at the Kahlin Compound in Darwin. She said he told her that children were used as “guinea pigs” for leprosy treatments.” He said it made our people very, very ill … the treatment almost killed them,” she said. “It was a common experience and a common practice … “People are very inhibited to speak about their experience and it is not a nice subject … I don’t want them to be shamed.”
Senator Brown said it was important to get to the bottom of the claims, which he called “very, very serious”.
“It may be right, it may not,” he said. “It needs investigation. If within the indigenous community there is a feeling that children may have been experimented upon for a treatment for leprosy or anything else, the air needs to be cleared.”
Ms Mills said information to do with the testing would be in health department archives and she called on the government to assist “opening Pandora’s box”.
She also said it was important to work with indigenous groups to ascertain who is eligible for compensation.”It has to happen … but there’s this reluctance to do it,” she said. “We don’t have the necessary information … it’s probably tucked away in some archive but we don’t have the resources to research, we don’t have the people who are qualified.
“Senator Brown said there was a national responsibility to help Aboriginal people to get to all the records, including those being held by church institutions.”
This is about their identity, this about their sense of being, their history,” he said.
The compensation bill aims to pay money to victims of the stolen generations, including living descendants, out of a Stolen Generations Fund.
Ex gratia payments would be set at $20,000 as a common experience payment with an additional $3,000 for each year of institutionalisation.
Rodney Dillon, from the National Sorry Day Committee, said that while the government debated action more Aboriginal elders entitled to some form of compensation were dying. “We are going to lose a lot of people between now and the next time this bill is put on the table,” he said. “Although it does not have all the things in it we would like, I think we should push ahead.”
Zita Wallace, chairperson of the Stolen Generations Alliance, said it was time to act “with urgency”.
“Because I know we are dying and all of us elders from the first generation we will be all gone … maybe the government would wish that would happen, then they would not have to pay compensation.”