The Greens have announced bill which they say will bring an end to the removal of First Nations children from their families in New South Wales.
The legislation, announced on Thursday by Greens Aboriginal Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge, seeks to implement the recommendations of the independent 2019 Family is Culture report.
The report investigated the factors around why Aboriginal children are 11 times more likely to be removed from their families than children from non-Aboriginal homes.
Led by Professor Megan Davis, the report found that the child protection system failed to protect or support Aboriginal children, and made 126 recommendations, 17 of which are the focus of the new legislation.
Mr Shoebridge said the Parliament had a responsibility to implement the recommendations of the report.
“Two years ago, Professor Megan Davis set out the changes that are needed to reverse the stolen generations in NSW, but the government refuses to act. This is a crisis and if the government will not act, the Parliament must,” he said.
“First Nations children are still being stolen from their families, their culture and Country, despite all the empty promises and tears from politicians.”
“The First Nations communities and organisations we have worked with to draft these law reforms don’t want more promises, they want action.”
If passed, the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Family Is Culture Review) Bill 2021 would enshrine the best practise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child and Young Person Placement Principle to law in the state and make it impossible for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be adopted.
The bill also mandates early-intervention and support to keep First Nations families together and requires the Children’s Court to consult with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation before making a Care Order.
“The appalling rate of removal of Aboriginal children in NSW is an act of continuing violence against Aboriginal communities with child ‘welfare’ institutions that are not culturally safe for Aboriginal families,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“The system is rigged – instead of working to keep families together and addressing systemic problems such as entrenched poverty and inadequate housing and health, it seems designed to take children away.”
“Aboriginal communities know what is best for their children and they are determined to keep families together, to raise their children on Country and within culture. But the system is against them.”
Mr Shoebridge recognised that the reforms were “vital” and “long overdue”.
“If made law will keep more families together and prevent the lasting trauma and tragedy of separation,” he said.
The Greens are seeking public feedback on the legislation, and the discussion paper is open for comment and submissions for the next four weeks.
“This means doing no further harm, which happens far too often. It features far too often in the stories we hear working alongside survivors and their families. It’s reflected in the high rates of removal,” she said.
“There is ample evidence about cultural determinants of health and well-being. It must be embedded in legislation, policy, and procedures with a focus and clear intention on prevention and healing, and wrap around support for families affected.”
By Sarah Smit