evived arguments about the removal of Indigenous children from their families are just the latest instalment of a “narrow debate” bringing Australia closer to another Northern Territory-style intervention, says an indigenous peak body.
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said it agreed vulnerable children needed to be removed from homes but current discourse – reignited by the alleged sexual assault of a toddler in Tennant Creek last month – threatened to derail real action on issues behind high rates of child endangerment.
The statement from congress came after a report by News Corp that the federal assistant minister for children and families, David Gillespie, had called for “white families” to be allowed to adopt abused children. Gillespie said this report was inaccurate and misrepresented his view.
Since the 1997 inquiry into stolen generations, Australian jurisdictions have prioritised placement of Indigenous children with Indigenous carers, but it is not mandatory.
The congress said children in danger needed to be with healthy families in safe communities. “A narrow debate has centred primarily on whether or not to ‘remove children who have suffered’,” it said.
“This dialogue is akin to the ‘crisis talks’ that sparked the Northern Territoryemergency response under the Howard government. It essentially stops at the call to protect and punish, or to push more programs and promote more police.
“A second broader ongoing debate, seemingly overshadowed somewhat by the former debate, acknowledges individual dysfunction and wrong-doing, but goes further in its attempt to understand how these individual situations are linked to broader policy, systemic failures and inter-generational issues. It essentially strives for a clearer understanding of causation and holistic solutions.”
Congress said it was troubled by the prevalence of abuse in out-of-home care settings, and there was a need to know more about where children were being sent.
It said responses needed to be community controlled and involve Indigenous organisations which had been working and advocating on child protection, and rejected accusations they and other Indigenous leaders had been silent on child abuse.
The organisation also said the suggestion child abuse was linked to Indigenous culture was “highly offensive”