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Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1310

Mr THORBURN (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs seen reports in the Press this morning about an Aboriginal child being returned to her natural parents at a Northern Territory Aboriginal settlement? Are the reports correct? When did he first learn of the matter, and what action is he taking?

Mr BRYANT (WILLS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I heard about the situation of the child on, I think, 27 August. I received a letter from her foster parents. At the same time I was informed by my Department that a critical situation was developing because of the demands of her natural father for the child to go back. The situation has unfortunately developed over the last 5 years because of the hesitancy - a reasonable hesitancy - of officials in the past to return the child when the parents wanted her back. She had been with the foster parents for about 5 years. As far as I could determine the actual custody of the child is a civil matter. The people responsible for returning her in the way in which I understand it did occur performed a remarkably insensitive operation. If any of our officials were involved we will, of course, have to take some action to ensure that they are not in a position to do that sort of thing again.

As to the actual facts of the return of the child, I have not received full details yet. She is in the custody of her natural parents and as far as I can determine we as the Government have a moral duty to see that the ordinary services of the Australian community are available to them but we have no legal right to intervene between the parents and the child. This incident is the end result of an unfortunate system that has developed over many years of taking children from their parents and then not making a final and real determination about the actual custody. As far as I can see, the welfare of the child is of paramount importance but we must make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again. We will not act out any of the errors of the past as far as this Government is concerned.

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