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Commissioners call for action on Indigenous child protection, disability, family violence

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has called for action on the over-representation of Indigenous children and young people in the child protection system, and for greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disability.

In his Social Justice and Native Title Report 2015, tabled this week in Federal Parliament, Gooda says Closing the Gap agreements should include targets on both child welfare and disability.

The report examines major developments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the past year – including the “deep cuts, confusion and anxiety” caused by the Indigenous Advancement Scheme, Western Australian plans to close remote communities, the Northern Territory’s paperless arrest laws, and the Australian Government’s response to the Forrest Review on Indigenous employment.

It makes 21 recommendations for action. See the full list below.

The Children’s Rights Report 2015 by National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell was also tabled this week, and includes recommendations on protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children. It has a big focus on the impact of family and domestic violence on children and young people. Mitchell says:

“Children who live in homes characterised by violence are often the silent, forgotten, unintended, invisible victims.”

“Sibling violence, and family and domestic violence experienced by female children aged 15 to 17 years, are areas where targeted research is especially needed.”

See her media statement.

In his media release, Gooda describes Indigenous child protection as “one of the most challenging issues confronting our communities.”

Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos has expressed similar concerns on child protection rates and trajectories. Under the Taskforce 1000 project, he is currently reviewing 1000 individual cases of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to examine the systemic failings that have produced steep increases in the number of children removed not just from parents, but from culture and community.

Gooda’s report calls on other states and territories to also establish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioners in their jurisdictions and urges the establishment of a National Institute of Indigenous Excellence in Child Wellbeing to coordinate research into Indigenous child protection. He said:

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are approximately nine times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in out-of-home care.

“Our children are our most precious resource and their innocence and their right to be safe, healthy and free from violence must be protected at all costs.

“We need to empower and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to break free from the cycle that brings them into contact with child protection authorities in the first place.”

***

Social Justice and Native Title Report 2015 recommendations
  1. The Australian Government should reconsider the requirement for Indigenous organisations receiving more than $500,000 of Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding to incorporate under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth).
  2. The Western Australian Government should not close any remote Aboriginal communities without a proper consultation process and the free, prior and informed consent of the communities concerned, as per articles 10, 18 and 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  3. The Northern Territory Government should repeal section 133AB of the Police Administration Act (NT) and commission an expert inquiry into responses to alcohol misuse, as per the recommendations of Coroner Greg Cavanagh SM.
  4. The Australian Government finalise the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan in accordance with recommendation 9 of the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee’s Progress and priorities report 2015.
  5. The Australian Government should design the Healthy Welfare Card and the Work for the Dole scheme in remote communities as voluntary, opt-in schemes.
  6. The Australian Government support and resource the Australian Human Rights Commission to undertake, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, government and other stakeholders, a process to identify options for leveraging Indigenous property rights for economic development purposes.
  7. Existing and potential Prescribed Bodies Corporate be engaged to develop the administrative arrangements for the distribution of the $20 million allocation to support native title holders to engage with investors.
  8. Representatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Northern Australia be appointed to the political and operational governance structures to oversee the next steps in implementing the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
  9. The Australian Government recognise the level of research and consultation involved in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and take action to implement its recommendations.
  10. To avoid duplication and to maximise outcomes for Indigenous communities in relation to the land and native title into the future, the Australian Government take action to synchronise the work of the:
    • COAG Indigenous Expert Working Group
    • COAG Investigation into Indigenous land use and administration
    • White Paper on Developing Northern Australia
    • Australian Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)
    • Broome Roundtable on Indigenous property rights.
  11. The full extent of disability within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community be ascertained based on the collection of comprehensive, disaggregated data.
  12. The effectiveness of programs and policies in addressing the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability be monitored through a continuous robust evaluation framework.
  13. By 2016, the Closing the Gap agreements include a target for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability as an area for future action.
  14. The Disability Support Organisations model is expanded across Australia to ensure culturally competent and appropriate engagement with Indigenous communities in the implementation of the NDIS, in order to ensure full access to disability services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  15. The NDIS rollout in rural and remote Australia should prioritise locally based services and employment in order to utilise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expertise and experience already present in those areas.
  16. The Australian Government should undertake an evaluation of the accessibility of the NDIS for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability 12 months after the national rollout in July 2019.
  17. The Australian Government takes steps to include child welfare targets as a part of the Closing the Gap, to promote community safety and wellbeing and reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the child protection system.
  18. State and territory governments take steps to establish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioners in their jurisdictions.
  19. Australian, state and territory governments should collaborate to support greater investment in research and the quality of information relating to child protection through greater funding and the establishment of a National Institute of Indigenous Excellence in Child Wellbeing.
  20. The Australian Government recognises the crucial link between child wellbeing, and early childhood education and care services, and supports greater investment in early childhood services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children including through renewed funding for Aboriginal Children and Family Centres.
  21. The Australian Government supports long-term investment in healing initiatives including services, research and evaluation.