National apology to all Australians impacted by the Thalidomide tragedy
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
thank you for your very heartfelt and moving words.
commends you for delivering this National Apology on behalf of the Australian
Government and the Australian people.
As the Federal
Opposition, we stand with the Government in saying a heartfelt sorry to all
Australians impacted by the thalidomide tragedy.
Sorry to the
Sorry to those who
are sadly no longer with us.
And sorry to all of
There are some 150
Australians alive today who were affected by thalidomide.
To those survivors
and families who honour us with their presence in the gallery today, and to
those who can’t be here but are watching the broadcast, I want to simply say
You are more than
owed this apology.
And this apology is
more than overdue.
It is an apology
which should have been made long ago without your repeated asking.
But without your
repeated asking, it is an apology which could not have been made today.
apology is delayed, it is made today with the deepest sincerity and sorrow.
I thank you for
being people of profound principle and patience.
With this apology,
the Australian Government acknowledges its historic accountability for the role
it played in the thalidomide tragedy.
With this apology,
this Parliament expresses on behalf of the Australian people our profound
regret for the tragedy which has befallen too many lives.
Thalidomide was made
It was first sold in
West Germany in 1957.
It was marketed as a
safe drug for women to take to help relieve morning sickness and nausea during
expecting mothers, taking just one tablet could cause significant birth
For so many parents,
that most magical and joyful moment of childbirth turned into one of
consternation and constant heartbreak.
babies were born with broken, bent and blemished bodies, outside and in.
And as babies grew
into children, and children into adults, survivors had to contend with lifelong
battles which most of us can never fathom.
Battles of the body.
And battles of the
And battling the
sometimes unforgiving and judgemental environments in which they found
themselves – particularly in childhood.
Survivors have lived
with myriad physical health issues – such as organ damage, sensory loss, nerve
impairment, debilitating pain and repeated surgeries.
Survivors have lived
with a multitude of psychological health issues – such as depression, anxiety
and feelings of social isolation, including from bullying, harassment, and
have lived with guilt and trauma, which in some cases, cost them their
Today we are aghast
that this drug – which has caused incalculable wretchedness – was once called a
distributed in 46 countries and given to literally thousands of pregnant women.
100,000 babies are estimated to have been affected by the drug.
But it is impossible
to know the precise number.
Thalidomide is known
to have also caused miscarriages, stillbirths and perinatal deaths.
predict that as many as 10,000 babies were severely affected by the drug of
which there are less than 3,000 survivors today.
distributed for sale in Australia between the 1st
of August 1960 and the 29th of
The drug was finally
prohibited on the 9th of August 1962.
That short period of
just over two years – from sale to prohibition – created a national black hole
which pulled in families across Australia.
struggled and suffered.
Their families have
suffered and struggled.
And yet commendably,
many Australians affected by the drug have been – or certainly have endeavoured
to be – fiercely independent despite all that has befallen them.
And even more
surviving adults have courageously campaigned for compensation and this apology
During the Senate
Inquiry into support for Australia’s thalidomide survivors, many first-hand
accounts were provided – in person and in writing.
These accounts speak
to personal tragedies and to family tragedies which collectively constitute a
I want to quote some
excerpts from these first-hand accounts to illuminate the many tragic layers.
There is the tragedy
of the physical ramifications of the drug.
One survivor wrote:
‘Under the advice of
her doctor, my mother took thalidomide and later gave birth to me…. I had
undeveloped arms, only two fingers on each, and an extra toe. There are other
underlying conditions that weren’t obvious at the time – heart problems,
enlargement of part of my oesophagus, no gallbladder.’
robbed me of many opportunit[ies] to have [a] normal life such as being able to
hear, play sport and having children.’
There is also the
tragedy of the psychological consequences of the drug.
And one survivor
‘I 100 per cent
blame Thalidomide for stealing my dignity, my self-worth.’
‘This took away my
ability to be independent. I always had to have someone to help me. I could
never go anywhere by myself like others could. This made me angry and
There is the further
tragedy lived by families, parents and especially mothers.
One mother said:
‘In my shocked state
in hospital, I was not helped by some of the staff’s comments and suggestions,
such as ‘Put him in an institution and forget about him’’.
‘Mum lives with so
much guilt for taking that 1 tablet – the guilt has eaten her away; she will
have that guilt till the last breath she takes.’
But perhaps the
totality of the tragedy on all those impacted by this destructive drug is
summed-up by these profound words of a survivor:
‘The question of how
much Thalidomide affected my life is simple. It affects me completely. Every
single step of my journey has been governed, decided upon, influenced, or
impeded, because of Thalidomide. I can’t escape it as it lives with me every
Today, we set the
We acknowledge the
part the Australian Government played in this tragedy.
In 1960, the
Australian Government allowed the importation of thalidomide.
No steps were taken
to test the drug prior to its distribution and sale around the nation.
In early 1961,
Australian obstetrician, Dr McBride, and German paediatrician, Dr Lenz,
independently identified the link between birth defects and the drug.
They then proceeded
to communicate and report their findings.
But even after the
drug was prohibited from being imported into Australia in August 1962, adequate
steps were not taken to ensure stocks were not sold.
tragedy, the support provided to survivors fell far, far short of their
expectations and was less comprehensive than what was provided in other
So today, we
acknowledge the Australian Government’s three-fold historic failure:
Its failure to
ensure that the drug was tested.
Its failure to act
with necessary speed to prohibit the drug and communicate sufficiently to the
public to prevent its sale and use.
And its failure to
provide survivors with adequate compensation and support to cope with the
long-term impacts of the drug throughout their lives.
Apology is not made today because we can fix the failures of the past.
Apology is not made to suggest that we grasp the extent of the hardship and
heartache endured by Australians impacted by thalidomide.
We never will.
Apology is not made because we believe it will dull the torment or make the
daily lives of survivors any easier.
We would be naïve to
think that it could.
But we make this
National Apology as an expression of a historical dereliction of duty.
An affirmation of a
recognition of responsibility.
As a proclamation of
a profound sense of regret.
With this ‘sorry’,
we acknowledge national shortcomings.
With this ‘sorry’ we
take the important step in strengthening the soul of our democracy through our
reverence for the truth.
I conclude my
remarks by acknowledging several parties.
First and foremost,
I thank all those survivors and witnesses who courageously provided evidence
during public hearings in Melbourne and Sydney and testimony in 71 written
I pay tribute to the
senators – and the secretariat which assisted them – for the inquiry, final
report and recommendations concerning support to thalidomide survivors.
acknowledge the former Coalition Government – led by Prime Minister Morrison –
and especially the former Health Minister Greg Hunt, for responding to all 11
I acknowledge the
presence in the gallery today of Greg Hunt who did many great things as Health
Minister, perhaps this his greatest.
In our 2020 Budget,
the Coalition Government, the Morrison Government, allocated a support package
of $45 million to survivors.
And I appreciate the
acknowledgement from the Prime Minister today.
This included a
one-off lump sum of up to $500,000 for every survivor.
As well as an
ongoing annual payment for lifetime support – and we welcome the Government’s
advice in relation to indexation and the extension of the application process.
additional support separately through the NDIS and pensions.
committed to this National Apology and the public memorial.
And I also want to
thank very much the Prime Minister and his Government for bringing these
issues, these things, to fruition.
My final remark goes
to the survivors.
None of us can
pretend to comprehend the dark days that you’ve endured.
But I know this.
setback, despite every hardship, and despite the difficulties yet to come –
your lives have mattered.
Your lives have
You have meant so
much to so many.
To your families. To
your friends. To your colleagues. To your fellow Australians.
And to any
Australian who is striving to be resilient in adversity.
Who is searching for
stoicism in difficulty.
You only need to
look to the examples of the survivors of thalidomide for the inspiration that