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Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Page: 11957

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Ms HUSAR (Lindsay) (12:07): It's always interesting to follow the minister who was responsible for this area when he talks about and acknowledges the problems in regional and remote parts of this country. I acknowledge his presence here now and also challenge the member for Lyne particularly on what he's actually doing, given his knowledge of how tricky the situation is in those remote and regional areas, in terms of funding and supporting those families that are subject to having their children removed.

I'd like to thank the member for Macarthur, who spoke before the member for Lyne, and the member for Newcastle, who I had the pleasure—if I can call it that—of sitting on this committee with, and the secretary and all of those who supported the work that we did. More than that, I'd also like to thank those people who gave evidence to our committee. These things and these issues are never easily spoken of. Such knowledge and expertise from those witnesses who were allowed to attend was beneficial to our committee.

I rise now to speak against this report, Breaking barriers: a national adoption framework for Australian children, which is the national adoption framework for Australian children. Like my colleagues, I'm horrified by the recommendations by this government to return to the blight on our nation: the years of the stolen generation. Between 1910 and 1970, many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies and practices. The generations of children removed under these policies became known as the stolen generation. These policies of child removal left a legacy of trauma and loss that continues to this day to affect Indigenous communities, their families and individuals. What this government is proposing harks back to that time.

Earlier this year, in this very place, we commemorated the official acknowledgement. It'd been 10 years since the then Labor Prime Minister Kevin» «Rudd» said sorry on behalf of all Australians past and present. The journey to a national apology began with the 1997 Bringing them home report, with recommendation 5a of the report stating:

That all Australian Parliaments

… officially acknowledge the responsibility of their predecessors for the laws, policies and practices of forcible removal …

On 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister «Kevin» «Rudd made a formal apology on behalf of the Australian parliament to the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This apology was particularly poignant to the stolen generations. Is this government's memory so short that they cannot recall this important moment in time? Have they forgotten the stories that were shared? Just one month after we hosted the sorry anniversary event, then Assistant Minister for Children and Families, the member for Lyne, David Gillespie, suggested that adoptions for more Indigenous children should be an option. I don't know about you, but this makes me incredibly angry. It makes me sick and hammers home the clear fact that this government does not learn from past mistakes.

The deplorable call of the recommendations in Breaking barriers report is to encourage open adoption for children in out-of-home care. This is a policy that will have a mammoth impact on First Nations communities, given that their children are 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care. Indigenous children, throughout Australia, remain very significantly overrepresented in care and in contact with welfare authorities. Their overrepresentation increases as the intervention becomes more coercive, with the greatest overrepresentation being in out-of-home care.

This cannot go on, and it cannot be left as if there is not a direct correlation between the past malpractices and mistreatment of First Nations people and what is happening in current, modern-day Australia. Indigenous children are particularly overrepresented in long-term foster care arrangements, and a high percentage of Indigenous children in long-term foster care live with non-Indigenous carers. Indigenous children are more likely than non-Indigenous children to be removed on the ground of neglect, as opposed to abuse. This policy and this government are leading our national down a horrible, horrible path. They are suggesting that we recreate one of the worst parts of our national story. They are asking us to agree, as a nation, to have another stolen generation. There has been absolutely no regard for the evidence-based child placement principles. The government are instead opting for the harsh, interventionist policies proposed by this government in the Breaking barriers report.

I will not stand by and let this disregard, disrespect and disgusting determination of our First Nations children and their future continue to be proposed by this government. They are proposing open adoption as their policy. They are also suggesting that we jump over the guardianship process and go straight into an open adoption. Open adoption is only slightly less cruel than forced adoption. The child is supposed to be raised with an understanding of their past and a connection to their biological family. Research, though, has shown that, despite the best of intentions, open adoption does not work how it is planned. I have struggled to find a person on either side of the open adoption process who can actually confirm to me that it works.

So what would it look like? The adoptive parents and birth parents would have agreed that they will stay in touch, share the milestones of their child's life and provide access to the child so that a deep connection to self can occur. The part where it falls apart is in keeping the promise. Author Amy Seek published a book called God and Jetfire to tell stories of birth families. Majorly, the open adoptions have failed many of the birth mothers she has spoken with over the years. She writes:

The adoptive parents may have pulled out, reneged on stated or implied promises, often claiming that, as the child grew old enough to grasp the deep ambiguity of the arrangement, ongoing contact became confusing. Sometimes birthparents draw back. Sometimes adoptive parents appear to get jealous. In most states, the law offers no protection for what is usually a non-binding, voluntary agreement.

I'm disgusted, but I'm unsurprised that the centre of this government's national child protection system would be open adoption. It is the heartless recommendation that they attempt to package as an empathetic solution to a very complex issue.

Leading practitioners, organisations and NGOs have come out against the Breaking barriers report. It is our responsibility—ours alone, as representatives of this nation and, importantly, at this very moment, as representatives of the First Nations people—to stand up against this revolving suggestion of a social policy. We know from history and from expert advice that this does not work. Indigenous people need to look after their own children. They need to sustain their culture, the oldest living, continuing culture in the world. This government is proposing yet another so-called social policy that would put a nail in that coffin.

We hear the word 'self-determination' as a core value of social policy and the agencies involved. Please allow me to read from a 20-year-old report, the same report that helped lead to the national apology taking place, the Bringing them home report. I had to point out to two of my colleagues on this inquiry that it actually even existed. The report said:

In spite of this, Indigenous children continue to be removed from their families at a disproportionate rate and continue to be placed into non-Indigenous environments including group homes and foster families.

I have spoken about the impact on our First Nations people and on their parents, but what about the most important people in this complex situation—the children? The child is at risk of many negative impacts, including reduced ability to assimilate into family, a sense of rejection, poor peer communications, power struggles and identity confusion. This does not sound like we are acting in our children's best interests.

I am for child protection, I am for doing what is in the best interests of the children and I am always willing and able to stand up and fight for those people without a voice. This, however, does not go anywhere near what needs to happen. The United Nations Children's Fund also gives us some guiding principles around the rights of a child in its Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that:

Forced integration is a breach of—

the child's—

rights and the Committee has recommended that States with significant indigenous populations adopt enforceable legislation to protect their rights.

The recommendations contained in this report do the exact opposite. The solution is something that this government is continuing to skirt. The solution is to invest in addressing the issues of family breakdowns and to support our Indigenous families to raise their children in safe, appropriate manners. We must consult with our First Nations communities, though, and this was something that the committee was absolutely starved of. Many witnesses who wanted to appear were not able to, and there were a number of people who would have come along to give evidence to our committee, had they been allowed. We need genuine partnership with our First Nations, our First Nations communities and our First Nations leaders, not interventionist strategies version 2.0, or wherever we're up to—because I am sick of counting. There is a reason why we need to continue to close the gap.

This is not going to be helpful. We must comply with the principles for stability and permanency planning and we must only suggest permanent care once the family has been provided with culturally appropriate and intensive family support services, which is what is missing. I implore the minister to take up my first suggestion, which is to actually fund these communities, not continue to defund them. The guiding principles that we on this side have prepared should underpin any national adoption framework. No child should be left without a real connection to their birth family, now or into the future. I urge this government to stop, to collaborate with us on this, and to actually listen to our First Nations people on the best way forward and on their self-determination.