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We Said Sorry, But We Didn't Right The Wrongs Of The Past

The number of indigenous children in out-of-home care is at crisis point.

28/03/2017 9:37 AM AEDT | Updated 28/03/2017 9:37 AM AEDT

February 13, 2008 will always be a monumental day in the Australian calendar. A day that for many marked a significant shift in Australian history and, in turn, sparked a hope for a brighter future. It was then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who declared: "We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians." These words -- simple but incredibly powerful -- sought to bridge a self-inflicted gap between Australia and its First Peoples. A Stolen Generation and years of inequitable support was finally acknowledged and seemingly embraced.

However, now nine years on and with Australia's political atmosphere under constant change, the question is what have we actually done to right these wrongs of our past? With the Australian media transfixed on the movements of Adele and Beiber, and Government bickering taking centre stage, the 9th anniversary of Rudd's apology passed quietly. At a time when dialogue around progress and achievement were more than warranted, their absence told a more pertinent story.

The ills of the past are seemingly being relived as a Government-knows-best approach is again being applied to one of the world's oldest cultures.

In June 2016, a census released by the Productivity Commission revealed that more than 15,000 Indigenous children in Australia are living in out-of-home care. Many of those children were removed from their families and placed into the care of strangers. After years of toil to have the 'original' Stolen Generation acknowledged and decades after the government ceased removing Indigenous children from their families and communities because of their race, the number of young Aboriginal people in out-of-home care is at crisis point.

The parallels between the 'original' and the 'new' are scarily obvious. Numerous recommendations by experts that Indigenous youth be placed in the care of other Aboriginal people are being ignored. Cultural practices are being lost and traditional languages are being forgotten. The ills of the past are seemingly being relived as a Government-knows-best approach is again being applied to one of the world's oldest cultures.

This is not to say that some removals are not warranted. Compared to their non-Indigenous peers, Aboriginal children are seven times more likely to be subjected to or at risk of harm. This statistic itself paints a dangerous reality, and by some can be used as ultimate justification of a child's removal.

However, we cannot let this tarnish an entire culture. It would be ignorant to position risk factors such as drug and alcohol abuse, family violence and neglect, as 'Indigenous' issues as opposed to societal issues that affect a much larger cross section of our population.

The recent case of two boys being removed from their community in Arnhem Land and sent to be resettled in Darwin is a clear example of this disparity and the development of the 'new' Stolen Generation. Placed in non-Indigenous foster care, without access to culture and tradition, the perceived benefit from their removal is overshadowed by a rapid loss of identity and pride. While this case became quite public, it masks a growing issue for Aboriginal communities and one that remains largely unaddressed by politicians.

The apparent development of this 'new' Stolen Generation is at odds with the very essence of the Government's apology way back in 2008.

I am all for youth, whether Indigenous or not, to live in a safe environment. However, of almost equal importance is the opportunity for those same young people to have a sense of identity, which for Indigenous children is largely influenced by culture.

The apparent development of this 'new' Stolen Generation is at odds with the very essence of the Government's apology way back in 2008. This apology was made after years of campaigning, and eerie similarities are beginning to emerge around Government intervention in Indigenous communities. Nine years after acknowledging ills of the past, the fight is continuing for Indigenous Australians. It is this fight, one that should no longer be fought, that is destabilising communities and challenging what makes Australia a place that embraces all Australians.


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