This speech was made on 11/09/2014. You can read the original contribution here
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [3.40 p.m.]: New South Wales children from Aboriginal communities are being removed from their families at an unprecedented rate. Too many Aboriginal children are being removed not just from their families but also from their traditional country. The Stolen Generations is not a thing of the past. It is happening today. This is despite the landmark Bringing Them Home report of 1997. This is despite the apology to the Stolen Generations from then Prime Minister Rudd in 2008. The size of the problem is not in dispute. At present more than 6,000 Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care in New South Wales. In fact, the number of New South Wales Aboriginal children in out-of-home care has increased five-fold since the Bringing Them Home report. So much so, that today approximately one in 10 Aboriginal children is in out-of-home care in New South Wales. As more and more Aboriginal children are being taken, communities are beginning to stand up and become organised. Foremost among these is a group known as Grandmothers Against Removals. Based in Gunnedah, it is a group that I am privileged to support and work with. Grandmothers Against Removals, or GMAR as they are known, were formed in January this year, as they say:
… in an effort to highlight the process of removal used by the New South Wales Department of Children’s Services.
In January I met with the aunties and elders who established GMAR in a listening and consultation meeting with Aboriginal families affected by child removal. If one travels amongst Aboriginal communities and listens one hears case after case of heartbreaking loss of children, the breaking of families—sheer desperation. What is clear is that the removal of children in many Aboriginal communities is close to routine, at least for the agencies concerned. There are undoubtedly cases where children need to be removed for their own protection. Children are vulnerable and society owes them an unquestioning duty to protect them from abuse and neglect. I know that there are thousands of genuine, caring people in the Department of Family and Community Services working to do just that. Child protection is hard work, emotionally challenging work and essential work, and I respect people who are willing and able to take it on. But the system is nevertheless failing Aboriginal communities.
Too many Aboriginal children are being removed from families and at the same time viable carers in the extended family: grandparents, aunties and uncles are ignored and the children are whisked hundreds of kilometres away to be cared for by strangers—well away from country. The removals are deeply traumatising for parents and children. The most extreme instance of this I have heard of happened earlier this year in northern New South Wales. In that case a family was woken just after dawn by Department of Family and Community Services workers, accompanied by armed police from the Tactical Response Group. Heavily armed with helmets, shields and tasers, they handcuffed the parents—they double cuffed the dad—and marched the children before them to waiting vehicles.
This family had recently suffered the loss of their youngest from sudden infant death syndrome. They needed help, not armed intervention. They have since, after a long struggle, had their children returned. They never should have been taken like that. How has it got to this? The grandmothers are placing a direct challenge to the New South Wales Government, saying its removal policies are not working and demanding change. I support them in this demand and will do all I can in this place to advance this issue. GMAR is making connections around the country, and acting as a model for other areas facing systematic issues related to child removals from other Aboriginal communities.
In May GMAR became part of the newly established National Aboriginal Strategic Alliance to Bring the Children Home. This network is part of a national grassroots movement focused on preventing the Stolen Generations. Aboriginal Australia is standing up and demanding a role, a central role, in decisions to remove children from their communities. They are willing to take responsibility to help families and protect their children and they are, slowly, being heard. But first and foremost they want assistance and respect to work to keep families together. We must give them this respect. We must listen. We must act. We must learn from the mistakes of the past and do all in our power to stop this ongoing Stolen Generation.