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Issue #1851      December 5, 2018

Voices raised in protest over new adoption laws

Aboriginal, human rights and legal organisations have joined the NSW Labor and Greens parties to criticise the NSW government’s changes to the state’s adoption laws, fearing they will lead to another Stolen Generation.

Hundreds of people gathered outside NSW Parliament to protest the laws.

The Berejiklian government last month passed legislation changing the process of granting the guardianship of children or adopting them out. Under the plan, birth parents will have two years to be reinstated as primary carers before an alternative permanent home is found.

But Aboriginal, human rights, welfare and community groups, as well as Labor and Greens MPs, are against the changes. Greens MP David Shoebridge said the laws would hurt the most vulnerable children in NSW.

“This will remove more Aboriginal children and basically more poor children from their families, despite what we know about history,” Shoebridge said. “That’s what has united us today, to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and the Stolen Generations.”

An open letter signed by more than 70 organisations – including AbSec, Grandmothers Against Removals and Jumbunna – and thousands of people was presented to Parliament, calling on the Government to drop the plan. But Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward accused Labor and the Greens of politicising the issue.

She said the intention of the system is to ensure children are kept with their birth parents but that can’t always happen. The two-year rule ensured a child didn’t languish in the foster care system, she said.

“After two or three years in the foster care option, their chances of being returned to a family are extremely low,” Goward told 2GB radio. “Our view is the Department of Family Services needs to be greater in its sense of urgency.”

Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services Tania Mihailuk said the Berejiklian government had rammed through draconian mandatory adoption laws during the last sitting day of the 56th NSW Parliament after rejecting every amendment proposed by NSW Labor.

Mihailuk said none of the amendments to safeguard children, parents or families from fast tracked pathways to adoption, or to provide adequate judicial discretion with regard to the rights of families and young people were passed by the Liberal-National government. Additional provisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families were also refused.

She said a Labor government would repeal the legislation.

“Minister Goward has insisted on ramming through this legislation after failing to issue a draft exposure bill or allowing for any public scrutiny,” Mihailuk said. “The lack of consultation and the minister’s dogmatic approach to amendments show her disregard of the sector and the many stakeholders that work in partnership with the government to support the child protection system.

“We’re dealing with incredibly vulnerable and complex families and having an arbitrary figure of two years is not achievable and sets these families up to fail.

“These draconian laws are a last-ditch attempt by Minister Goward to cement a legacy for herself at the expense of vulnerable children.”

Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Harris said the legislation would impact most on Aboriginal families. “Given what past government policy has inflicted on Aboriginal people through the Stolen Generations and forced adoptions, it seems incredible that this legislation was passed without listening to the experts who deal with Aboriginal families,” he said.

AbSec, the NSW peak body for Indigenous children, chief executive Time Ireland said the legislation threatens to sever another generation of Aboriginal children’s connection to their heritage, family and community and alter the course of their lives forever.

“We are extremely disappointed that these harmful new laws have been passed in the face of serious concerns from Aboriginal communities as well as the child protection and community service sectors,” he said.

“The fact that the NSW government rushed these changes through Parliament without real engagement on the proposed amendments with any of these parties shows that they are not interested in effective reform.

“They are not interested in working with the experts on the ground and investing in true, long-term solutions for the most vulnerable Aboriginal children in NSW.

“We firmly believe the lifelong wellbeing and safety of Aboriginal children is at risk here.

“It is our responsibility to act under this regressive policy of forced adoption and assure support is there when needed.”

Koori Mail

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