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PM issues 'overdue' apology to thalidomide survivors

Anthony Albanese has delivered a formal apology on behalf of the government to the survivors and families affected by the drug thalidomide.



Anthony Albanese has offered an "unreserved and overdue" apology to survivors of thalidomide, saying governments have let down those affected by the drug.


Sixty-two years to the day the morning sickness drug for pregnant women was withdrawn from sale in Australia because of causing birth defects, Mr Albanese apologised to the survivors of the pharmaceutical disaster.


"We understand an apology does not balance years of inaction and inadequate support.


We know the toll of thalidomide is still felt today," the prime minister told parliament on Wednesday.


"These parents, these mothers did nothing wrong. These parents did not fail their children. The system failed them both."

Anthony Albanese said survivors of thalidomide had been let down for decades by federal governments.


A national apology was a key recommendation of a Senate inquiry into thalidomide in 2019.


While there are 146 known registered survivors in Australia, the exact number affected by thalidomide is unknown.


Mr Albanese said survivors of thalidomide had been let down over the decades by successive federal governments.


"We are sorry for the harm and the hurt and the hardship you have endured.


We are sorry for all the cruelty you have had to bear. We are sorry for all the opportunities you have been denied," he said.


"You have been survivors from the day you were born. More than that, you have been advocates, organisers, champions and warriors.


"Time and again, you have summoned remarkable resolve, you have shown an extraordinary strength of character.


Yet for so long parliaments and governments have not proved equal to this or worthy of it. Too often, we have let you down."


The Senate report found if the government at the time had acted more quickly when thalidomide was linked to birth defects, 20 per cent of survivors may not have been affected.


In November 1961, when the link was established, federal and state governments took no action to ban the importation or sale of the drug.


The prime minister used the apology to announce the government would reopen a support program for survivors and that annual support payments would be indexed.


Survivors had been urging the government to reopen eligibility for the support scheme, saying multiple survivors were not being offered help.


"For six decades, (survivors) have had to carry this course. Now, the challenge is on all of us here to do better for you," Mr Albanese said.


"Together, I know we can, I know we must, I know we will."

Thalidomide survivor Lisa McManus wants greater support for those affected by the drug.


Opposition Leader Peter Dutton also issued an apology to survivors in parliament.


"It's an apology that should have been made long ago without your repeated asking," he said.


"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."


A minute's silence was also held in the House of Representatives in memory of the victims of thalidomide.


Thalidomide survivor Lisa McManus who is also the director of Thalidomide Group Australia, said a formal apology on behalf of the government had been a long time coming.


"We have just dragged federal governments (to issue an apology) kicking and screaming like naughty boys out of the sandpit," she said ahead of the formal apology.


"A good apology is only as genuine as the actions that follow it."


A national site of recognition of thalidomide survivors will be unveiled in Canberra on Thursday.


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