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Issue #1809      February 7, 2018

White Australia has a Black History

The Bringing Them Home Report, also known as the Stolen Generation Report, was tabled in Federal Parliament on May 26, 1997. It revealed the tragic history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed from their families, communities and Country. The Stolen Children National Inquiry heard first hand of the harsh treatment received from government agencies, church, police and other institutions and the suffering and loss that followed.

In its introduction the Stolen Generation Report states: “The truth is that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians.”

It quotes the Governor General who stated in August 1996: “The present plight, in terms of health, employment, education, living conditions and self-esteem, of so many Aborigines must be acknowledged as largely flowing from what happened in the past. The dispossession, the destruction of hunting fields and the devastation of lives were all related. The new diseases, the alcohol and the new pressures of living were all introduced. True acknowledgment cannot stop short of recognition of the extent to which present disadvantage flows from past injustice and oppression ...”

Unfortunately many of the racist, colonialist policies of the past are still with us, as is the suffering and dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people. The policy of genocide and the removal children from their families continues, albeit in different guises.

As in the past, it is presented by right-wing, racist politicians and commentators as protecting the children being removed from their families.

Domestic violence, alcoholism, child abuse or neglect are not a result of bad parents who do not love their children or do not care, as the racists would have us believe.

The social disadvantages and issues that the Governor General referred to have only been exacerbated by lack of essential services, unemployment, overcrowded housing, discrimination and the actions of mining corporations as they seize their land.

When she was the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services from 2011-2014 Pru Goward showed little concern for children, failing to fill 2,068 full-time caseworker positions. As a result the cases of more than 40,000 vulnerable children reported to Community Services in 2012-13 were closed, just not investigated.

Chronic shortages of caseworkers resulted in only 18 percent of children reported to the Department of Community Services in Western Sydney receiving a visit by a caseworker. Goward was forced to resign her portfolio.

Twelve months ago she returned to the portfolio, once again given responsibility for the protection of children.

This time she has come up with a scheme to promote adoption of children who are in out-of-home care, in fact a scheme for compulsory adoptions.

The Coalition government will invest $90 million in two programs over four years to bring about behavioural change in 900 families. Nine hundred of the state’s “most vulnerable “families will receive therapy from caseworkers who will visit them on a weekly basis for six to nine months.

Half of the children will be Aboriginal. Where parents fail to respond to the therapy quickly their children will be removed permanently – adopted out! In other words the children will be forcibly and permanently removed from their parents.

The Department issued a government discussion paper last October seeking comments by the end of November. It canvassed a number of other reforms including dispensing with the present requirement that birth parents must give their consent for an adoption to go ahead.

The question of greater use of open adoptions was also raised for discussion. This is where the birth parents would be able to maintain some contact with their children.

Because adoption is such a serious and permanent step, at present only the Supreme Court can make an adoption order. The government is proposing allowing the Children’s Court – a much lower court – to make adoption orders

The Stolen Children Inquiry recommended that there be national standards legislation which provided that the initial presumption is that the best interest of the child is to remain within his or her Indigenous family, community and culture.

What we are witnessing here is exactly the opposite. It is racial discrimination. It will only cause pain and suffering and disrupt not repair family life. It compounds the loss of cultural rights and fulfilment. It denies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people their right to determine the most appropriate care for their children.

It is the creation of the next Stolen Generation.

If Indigenous children need placement outside of their home then the first port of call should be their extended family, then their community or another Indigenous family.

The adoption of children who were living in foster care in NSW almost doubled in 2016-17 from 67 in 2015-16 to 129. The number of such adoptions for the remainder of Australia over the same period was 14.

The number of children who were in out-of-home care in Australia in 2016-17 was 47,915. This alarming figure is an indictment of capitalism and its failure to care for our most vulnerable people.

When the figures are broken up into Indigenous and non-Indigenous there is even more reason for concern:

  • The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is 17,664 – 58.7 per 1,000.
  • The number of non-Indigenous is 30,069 – 5.8 per 1,000 in out-of-home care.

If the Minister and government really cared about children, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, they would redirect the more than $2 billion allocated for renovating two football stadia to services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

To paraphrase the quote from the Stolen Generation Report, the racist past is very much with us today.

Next article – Abuse allegations at WA detention centre

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