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Treating our Aboriginal Children Equally

March 15, 2020

Jacinta Price recently expressed in The Australian newspaper her disappointment in the sentencing of a man who raped an Aboriginal two year old girl in Tennant Creek. He was sentenced to 13 years’ jail with a non-parole period of nine years. Let that sink in.

 

This was a crime that shocked our nation—but not for the first time. For example, back in May of 2006, Nanette Rogers had been Crown Prosecutor

 

in Alice Springs for more than 12 years. She was interviewed on ABC’s Lateline and described another shocking case as follows: “The two-year-old was playing outside with some other children. Her mother was away from the house, drunk in a small town. The offender woke up, took the small child, carried it out bush, had the child out bush for some hours.” The rest of this story is too heinous to mention here but a transcript of the interview is available online.

 

Also reported in The Australian was that the girl and her siblings had been the subject of more than 50 child protection notifications. Further, The Guardian had reported back in May of 2018 that the family were well known to service providers in Tennant Creek. So why wasn’t that child and her siblings removed from their family home?

 

Yes, ‘the system’ is stretched to its limits and fault can be found at many levels, but I wish to focus on one in particular. Anyone with even the slightest familiarity with Aboriginal affairs will know of the shouts of “stop stealing our children” when the topic of Aboriginal child protection is raised. We have also seen the placards at protests with the words “Sorry means you don’t do it again” which is a reference to the stolen generations.

 

WA’s first Aboriginal magistrate. Dr Sue Gordon, was reported in The West Australian back in February of 2018 of urging: “indigenous parents to take responsibility for their children” and dismissed claims that “child protection authorities are creating another Stolen Generation.” She further added: “Everyone keeps ranting and raving about another Stolen Generation ... It’s not a Stolen Generation. Under the law the State Government can apply to the court to have a child removed for neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Until those handfuls of families in each State and Territory can be given some assistance, or understand that they have the responsibility, then you will continue to have children removed.”

 

In a similar manner, Mick Gooda, has a straightforward message for those who conflate the experiences of the stolen generations with the experiences of vulnerable children and families today: “Previously, our children were forcibly removed, institutionalised, and sent into domestic service or farm labour … This is not the same situation we face today, and no fair-minded Australian could wish that injustice to be repeated … It is inaccurate to equate the injustice experienced by the Stolen Generations with the difficulties experienced by vulnerable children and families today.”

 

Yes, the claim is inaccurate, but it continues. Speaking at an ‘invasion day’ rally last year about the need for a treaty, Lidia Thorpe, who is credited as being the First Aboriginal woman in Victorian parliament, stated that “we want to stop the stealing of our children”. Lidia, how many Aboriginal children can you name today who are currently stolen?

 

This may seem off topic, but bear with me for a moment. I am not a fan of changing the national anthem just to appease those who claim that it excludes Aboriginal people. However, the suggestion of changing ‘we are young and free’ to ’we are one and free’ I believe has some merit, especially for matters as serious as the wellbeing of Aboriginal children.

 

I do believe we—that is, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—are all one. While there may be some superficial differences, they are far outweighed by the commonalities. So if we are all one, how about applying the same standards of child protection to Aboriginal children as what are applied to non-Aboriginal children?

 

I do not believe children should be removed from family based on accusation alone. Nor should a child be removed simply because parents are experiencing some struggles and rough times. Where there are problems and the parents clearly care for their children, then families should be provided with support and assistance. But when there is a clear case of neglect, then children should be removed, whether they be Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. And those workers charged with the responsibility of removing Aboriginal children should be able to do so, without the fear of being labeled a racist or creating another ‘stolen generation’.

 

When an Aboriginal child is to be removed and placed with a family, let’s abandon the ridiculous practice premised on the absurd belief that Aboriginal children are best placed with Aboriginal carers. On the Australian Institute of Family Studies webpage it mentions the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. Specifically, it states: “If no other suitable placement with Aboriginal carers can be sought, children are placed with non-Indigenous carers as a last resort.” To refer to non-Indigenous carers as a last resort sounds a bit like racism to me. The principle should be colour blind and restated as “children in need of out-of-home care should be placed with carers who can provide a safe and nurturing environment.”

 

The Placement Principle qualifies its claim by mentioning “preserve Aboriginal children's connection to family and community and sense of identity and culture.” I have no problem that. Removed children should be allowed contact with family and community, assuming the children are safe. Where I disagree, is when some people claim this preservation can only take place when the children are in the care of Aboriginal carers. While some may claim that culture cannot be preserved while the children are with non-Aboriginal carers, this is nonsense. When with non-Aboriginal carers, the children are not cut off from cultural experiences.

 

Aboriginal children, like all children, thrive in an environment of love. These children should not have to suffer due to identity politics and political correctness.

 

Yes, there was outrage at the light sentence given to the rapist who raped that little girl in Tennant Creek. But let’s not be afraid to show the same level of outrage when an Aboriginal child is left in an environment that a non-Aboriginal child would be very unlikely to be left in.

 

 

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