Prime Minister Julia Gillard has issued an apology to people affected by Australia's forced adoption policy between the 1950s and 1970s.
Tens of thousands of babies of unmarried, mostly teenage mothers, were thought to have been taken by the state and given to childless married couples.
Many women said they were coerced into signing away their children.
Speaking in front of hundreds of the victims, Ms Gillard said the "shameful" policy had created "a legacy of pain".
"Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering," she said at Parliament House in the capital Canberra.
"We deplore the shameful practices that denied you, the mothers, your fundamental rights and responsibilities to love and care for your children."
The prime minister said mothers had been denied knowledge of their rights, which meant they could not provide informed consent.
"You were given false assurances, you were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal," Ms Gillard said.
Many people in the crowd broke down in tears during her speech, which was greeted with applause.
Ms Gillard also announced the Australian government would provide A$5 million (£3.4m) funding to improve access to specialist support, records tracing and mental health care for those affected by forced adoption.
Last February, a Senate committee called for the national apology after investigating the impact of the policy.
The report was based on submissions from hundreds of women.
Many said they gave up their children because of stigma attached to unmarried motherhood at the time.
Some said they were drugged, while others said their signatures were forged.