One of the first acts of the Labor government in 2008 was to apologise to the Stolen Generations. Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.” But Aboriginal children are being removed from their parents in numbers far higher than during the Stolen Generations and the rates are skyrocketing.
The paternalism of the Protection-era that saw thousands of Aboriginal families ripped apart has been reborn. The numbers of Aboriginal children removed has increased five times in the past 15 years. The majority of children are not placed with relatives or kin. Aboriginal Legal Service workers say that child protection agencies often refuse to engage with families before babies are removed and consistently favour non-Indigenous carers.
The rate of removal is highest in NSW, where in 2011, 9.6 per cent of Aboriginal children were in out of home care. Nationally it is 5.5 per cent.
The Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry found that “up to 197 babies were taken from their parents hours after birth in north Queensland hospitals between July 2009 and June last year”. Witnesses said, “People in communities are calling it a Stolen Generation, just with another name”. Many women who have their babies taken away are not represented at their initial court appearances—or don’t challenge the order because they do not know they can.
At a recent conference of the Secretariat of Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), advocates reported a shocking rate of surveillance. Up to 62 per cent of Aboriginal children in Queensland are currently “known to child protection”. From every state, there were stories of armed police accompanying child protection workers to raid houses and rip children away.
Delegates at the conference voted unanimously to initiate a national campaign to stop the removals, reunite children who have been taken and win resources for Aboriginal controlled agencies to support struggling families.
Most removals occur because of supposed “child neglect”. But the real neglect begins with a racist system that holds Aboriginal people in extreme poverty and squalid living conditions.
A recent United Nations Human Development Index report rated Australia second in the world for quality of life. But according to researcher Gerry Georgatos, on the same indicators Aboriginal people would be 122nd. Overcrowded housing is endemic in communities, with more than 20 people commonly cramming into one house. Third world health conditions such as otitis media (ear infections) and trachoma, eradicated in the rest of the developed world, are common.
Aboriginal family support services are barely surviving. Howard-era funding cuts and the abolition of Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) destroyed many. Funding agreements for 33 Aboriginal child and family centres are set to expire in 2014, yet neither major party has committed to continue the funding.
One former worker from the Daguragu family centre in the NT told the Intervention Rollback Action Group about the terrible consequences of the closure of her program, “It’s really hard for them now… if there little babies don’t put on weight for two or three weeks, they be taken away from their mother’s arms by welfare”.
Where support services do exist in the NT, they can’t be accessed unless parents agree for 70 per cent of their Centrelink payments to be quarantined under “income management”.
According to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal and Advocacy Service , “the child protection system is too closely related to the historical discriminatory policies of the past which deemed Aboriginality to be sufficient grounds for removal of children.”
This is the result of many years of a blame-the-victim approach in Aboriginal politics, aiming to shift responsibility for chronic social problems away from government neglect and racism and onto the Aboriginal people who are suffering. This culminated with Howard’s Northern Territory Intervention supported by Labor.
Now Liberal NT Chief Minister Adam Giles is calling for even more removal—he wants to change NT laws that specify that agencies must try to give a child a home with Aboriginal people before giving them up for adoption to non-Aboriginal people. (These laws, however, have done nothing to stop two thirds of current foster placements being with non-Indigenous carers).
According to Giles, “People were too scared of the Stolen Generation. And I believe that’s why there’s a lot of kids out there with such social dysfunction”.
Rupert Murdoch praised Giles’ “leadership and courage”. The Daily Telegraph carried a double page spread and an editorial celebrating Giles’ “Saved Generation”. A.O. Neville, the Commissioner for Native Affairs during early years of the Stolen Generation, put it similarly in 1934: “They have to be protected against themselves whether they like it or not.”