Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Prime Minister, thank you for your very heartfelt and moving words.

The Coalition 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 survivors.

Sorry to those who are sadly no longer with us.

And sorry to all of their families.

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 this:

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.

Although this 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 in 1954.

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 their pregnancy.

Unbeknown to expecting mothers, taking just one tablet could cause significant birth defects.

For so many parents, that most magical and joyful moment of childbirth turned into one of consternation and constant heartbreak.

Their precious 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 mind.

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 indifference.

Survivors’ parents have lived with guilt and trauma, which in some cases, cost them their relationships.

Today we are aghast that this drug – which has caused incalculable wretchedness – was once called a ‘wonder drug’.

Thalidomide was distributed in 46 countries and given to literally thousands of pregnant women.

Worldwide, some 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.

Medical experts predict that as many as 10,000 babies were severely affected by the drug of which there are less than 3,000 survivors today.

Thalidomide was distributed for sale in Australia between the 1st of August 1960 and the 29th of November 1961.

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.

Survivors have 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 today.

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 national tragedy.

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.’

Another said:

‘Thalidomide… has 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 noted:

‘I 100 per cent blame Thalidomide for stealing my dignity, my self-worth.’

Another survivor powerfully wrote:

‘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 frustrated.’

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’’.

Another survivor stated:

‘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 day.’

Today, we set the record straight.

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.

Following the tragedy, the support provided to survivors fell far, far short of their expectations and was less comprehensive than what was provided in other countries.

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.

This National Apology is not made today because we can fix the failures of the past.

We cannot.

This National 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.

This National 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 submissions.

I pay tribute to the senators – and the secretariat which assisted them – for the inquiry, final report and recommendations concerning support to thalidomide survivors.

Thirdly, I acknowledge the former Coalition Government – led by Prime Minister Morrison – and especially the former Health Minister Greg Hunt, for responding to all 11 recommendations.

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.

It provides additional support separately through the NDIS and pensions.

The Coalition 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.

Despite every setback, despite every hardship, and despite the difficulties yet to come – your lives have mattered.

Your lives have meaning.

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 you seek.