MARK COLVIN: It’s six years since Kevin Rudd apologised for past mistreatment of Indigenous Australians, including forcibly removing children from their families.
A group of grandmothers from Gunnedah in New South Wales are using the anniversary to warn of a new stolen generation.
The grandmothers say welfare workers and police are still removing Indigenous children at an alarming rate.
Brendan Trembath reports.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: For nearly a century, tens of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families by state and federal governments and church missions.
Aunty Hazel from the Gunnedah area in north-eastern New South Wales argues little has changed.
AUNTY HAZEL: There’s never been a gap, there’s never been a stop in stolen generation and that’s evident today.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Aunty Hazel’s last name cannot be published because of a pending legal case. She says four of her grandchildren have been placed in care.
AUNTY HAZEL: We’re not going to keep sitting back and having our babies taken. We have a right, our babies have a right.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Grandmothers and their families have attended a rally outside the New South Wales Parliament to condemn the forced removal of Indigenous children by the State’s Department of Community Services.
AUNTY HAZEL: We want an investigation into DOCS (Department of Community Services), why this has continued, why hasn’t something been done? We want reform to their policies and procedures.
Greens MP David Shoebridge says there’re no doubt cases where the organisation is doing the right thing, but its first reflex is to remove children.
DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Between 1997 and 2012 we saw a five-fold increase in the number of Aboriginal children being removed across Australia. And New South Wales tragically is a real hot spot, it’s the highest rate of Aboriginal child removal and more than one in 10 Aboriginal children across New South Wales are in care. It’s the new stolen generation.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The state’s Community Services Minister Pru Goward says she can’t comment on individual cases or why the Gunnedah grandmothers can’t assume responsibility for their grandchildren.
She says though, that case workers hate removing children and often have no choice.
PRU GOWARD: These are going to be traumatic circumstances for families and families need to understand that we only remove in that instant way, without any prior discussion if we believe the child is in very serious danger.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Pru Goward says the rate has slowed and there are wider issues to consider.
PRU GOWARD: But we also need to see rates of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities come down too, so we can be sure that Aboriginal children are safe, it’s very much a two way street.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Her state and territory counterparts are grappling with similar problems.
Aunty Karen, who attended the Sydney rally came down from Brisbane. She says they organised a food program in their area to prevent authorities using a lack of food in the house as a reason to seize children.
AUNTY KAREN: We take food into the homes because what DOCS do, they go straight to the fridge and cupboard and if the mother got no food in the cupboards that’s an easy target. So what we do, we don’t ask for anything, we just go in and fill their cupboards.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: But if there’s no food in the refrigerator, the authorities might make the assumption that the child is at risk.
AUNTY KAREN: Yes that’s what they do, they call it intervention.
MARK COLVIN: Activist Aunty Karen from Brisbane with Brendan Trembath.