Leading advocates for Indigenous children have hailed the federal government's commitment to establishing a National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, announced on the 16th anniversary of the national apology to the Stolen Generations, as a "game changer".
SNAICC - National Voice for our Children CEO Catherine Liddle congratulated the government on Tuesday for its commitment to establishing the role, which will focus on advocating for evidence-based change to policies and systems to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up safe, connected to their family and cultural identity.
"Our sector and our communities have been calling for a national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children for many years, to tackle the over-representation of young people in out-of-home care and youth detention," Ms Liddle said.
"The National Commissioner will be the champion, the voice and facilitator for our children, young people and families, and who will hold governments to account.
"They will help turn the tide of our children being over-represented in out of home care, and one of the key targets under Closing the Gap."
The new role was announced in the wake of the scathing Productivity Commission report into Closing the Gap.
Nationwide, Indigenous children are over-represented in child protection and youth justice systems. Gaps in child health and education also remain significant problems.
Indigenous children are almost eleven times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children and a string of incidents in NSW, along with the Yoorrook Commission's recommendation for a stand-alone Indigenous child protection system in Victoria, has thrown the disproportionate removals into the spotlight.
Ms Liddle said the new National Commissioner will be able to investigate and make recommendations on issues impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, ensuring their safety and rights are upheld.
"Our sector has consistently said the most effective and immediate action Government can take to make children safe and protect their human rights is to stand up a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Commissioner, with the legislated power to investigate and make recommendations on issues impacting our children," she said.
"The National Agreement on Closing the Gap has given us the leverage and mechanism to finally make this a reality.
"Working through mechanisms such as Safe and Supported: the National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children, a ground-breaking commitment to shared decision-making, has enabled the ambition of many years to finally be realised. It shows these reforms at a national level can drive meaningful change."
Ms Liddle said similar independent and empowered roles must be present in every jurisdiction, providing a national system of oversight to uphold the rights and interests of our children.
"This significant commitment to our children should have bi-partisan support nationally and in all states and territories. Our children deserve this," she said.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the National Commissioner role was about "changing the trajectory and creating brighter futures for Indigenous children."
"The status quo cannot continue, and we are committed to making real change, strengthening families and getting better outcomes for Indigenous children and young people," Minister Burney said.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton, who notoriously boycotted the Stolen Generation apology in 2008, called for more to be done about socioeconomic conditions, abuse and crime in Alice Springs, and reiterated the Coalition's calls for a royal commission into child sex abuse in Indigenous communities; a platform widely rejected by Indigenous groups working in the area.
"If we continue to do more of the same, we will only get more of the same," he said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday the Commissioner will "address the unacceptable rates of out-of-home care" and was developed in collaboration with Indigenous bodies and experts, including Coalition of the Peaks.
During the Voice referendum, the Coalition argued for more consultation with Indigenous bodies at the coalface and out of the cities. The PM said the decision was based on "evidence."
"The National Commissioner will be dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights, interests and wellbeing of First Nations children and young people, as well as calling on their strengths, sense of hope, and ideas for change," the PM said.