Reporter Geoff Bagnall
A rally in Tamworth has once more demanded the New South Wales government stop creating a new Stolen Generation. In 2008 then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd made his Apology to the Stolen Generations for the long policy of forced removals under a welfare system whose effects, removal of culture, removal of language are now covered by the United Nations Genocide Convention.
Aunty Hazel from Gunnedah’s Grandmothers Against Removals said even as Kevin Rudd stood to make his Apology, even as he spoke, even more children were being removed from their families.
“When Kevin Rudd made that apology and I have to give credit to the man, he had guts to stand up there and acknowledge a past but what Kevin Rudd didn’t acknowledge was while he was standing up there giving that speech and making his apology, there were many more children taken out of families while he was talking. And it is still continuing.
Aunty Hazel asked for her last name not be used in this article because she is currently trying to have two of her grandchildren, taken from her by the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS), returned.
“Sorry means not having to go through this again but this situation of having our children taken from us has been continuous,” she said.
And Aunty Hazel is not speaking from some out-of-touch platform
“My Grandmother and my aunty were stolen. They were in Cootamundra and they ran away,” she said.
“The welfare system has failed Aboriginal people since it was first introduced many, many years ago and it is still failing today.
“What’s happening is they are still operating under the old Protection Act and it’s failed … it failed back then and it’s failed now,” she said.
In 1998 the government was handed the Bringing Them Home report, a crucial document from which they then cherrypicked just a couple of easy recommendations they could implement with cash but no fundamental change.
“The very thing about Bringing Them Home report is we want to know bringing who home?,” Aunty Hazel asked.
“You might get a small percentage that will forget their way home, that will fully become and feel comfortable with their (new) family but in a lot of cases there isn’t going to be that family there to come home to.
“We could all be gone and the devastation and the destruction, even that initial taking, that will stay in those little hearts forever, that will stay in our hearts as their mums, their grandmums, as their Aunties, their Uncles, their family, that stays in our hearts, that destroys us every day,” Aunty Hazel said.
NSW Greens MP, David Shoebridge, who has long campaigned against the removal of Indigenous children from their families, said since the Bringing Them Home report in 1998 the number of Aboriginal children removed from their families and from their cultures has skyrocketed.
“Since the Bringing Them Home report in 1998, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of Aboriginal children in out of home care,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“Tragically, New South Wales stands out across the Commonwealth as the State with the highest rate of Aboriginal child removal. More than one in 10 Aboriginal children are in out of home care in this State,” he said.
Mr Shoebridge castigated both Liberal and Labor State politicians for their lack of commitment and lack of interest to take responsibility for the problem.
“It beggars belief,” he said. “When I attend the meetings, when I talk to communities, I am the only politician there and it beggars belief there aren’t more politicians across the political spectrum deeply concerned about this and ensuring we don’t have another Stolen Generation.”
There is an awful lot of money spent on “child protection” and both David Shoebridge and grandmother Aunty Hazel say the money is being misdirected and wasted.
“The money is spent on the courts and it’s spent on the police, it’s spent on the child removal and on the foster parents. It’s not being spent on the families in the first place, and the communities to keep the children in the care of their parents,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“The first intervention by FaCS should not be the removal of the kids, the first intervention by FaCS needs to be a parenting program, help with nutrition, help with getting the kids to school, help with housing,” he said.
Aunty Hazel said the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services was failing families and it was failing the community.
“They are a closed book, this DoCS and the fact of the matter is their title is Family and Community Services well, in my view they are failing their duty of care,” Aunty Hazel said.
“If they spent more time and effort in engaging services and coming in on the ground level where family is experiencing difficulty and let’s face it, we all can experience difficulties at any given time in our life, that doesn’t mean we are incapable of looking after our children. But that is not what happens.
“What the process is in 99 per cent of cases is they come in on a Friday afternoon and this is first contact and they just tell you ‘we are taking the child, we’ve had several complaints’.
“These are complaints they say they have received are not substantiated, they’re not investigated,” Aunty Hazel said.
“To them they are proven. They’ll say to the families ‘there’s risks, we are taking the children’. We ask what are these risks but you often don’t get told what the risks are until later,” she said.
“And when the child is removed they are removed hundreds of kilometres away, away from extended family who could have and often want to care for them and away from their Culture.
“You can only imagine the fear and everything that is going through that little child’s mind while being driven away; where am I going, who am I going to?
“They go to strangers, they don’t know these people. Their very essence of who they are, their Aboriginality, their Culture, their heritage, their ancestral footprint, that is being destroyed, the essence of who they are, because who’s going to teach our children?
“Everybody has a birthright to their Culture. Nobody has a right to destroy that,” she said.
Aunty Hazel said everyone accepted there were some children who absolutely should be removed from danger.
“But is the New South Wales Minister, Pru Goward really saying one Aboriginal childin every 10 in the State is in danger? If she is then she doesn’t know what she is talking about,” Aunty Hazel said.
The other crushing question for Grandmothers Against Removals is why must the child be excised entirely from the whole community?
“If it’s a situation where the parents are having some sort of a crisis and there is an issue with the children, certainly our view is don’t take them out of the family unit, don’t put them in out of home care,” Aunty Hazel said.
“Look at the family network and how best can the extended family network support this family.
“If that means the children go to a grandparent, an aunty and uncle, or extended family or friends, make it happen,” Aunty Hazel said.
“They tell you upfront, if you put your hand up and say ‘we’ll take the children’, they say ‘no, you’re not suitable’ but you’re not told why you’re not suitable.
“When you ask that question you get no explanation, you are just told you are not suitable.
“There’s no consideration given to the trauma the child goes through from that initial removal,” Aunty Hazel said.
Aunty Hazel said some believed Australia was heading to a time when another Prime Minister would have to make another apology for another Stolen Generation but for Aunty Hazel another apology would be an insult.
Aunty Hazel said if these wrongs continue it would only highlight Sorry was an empty word from Prime Ministers.
“To Aboriginal people it is an empty word, you cannot say sorry and then continue to do the same thing,” Aunty Hazel said.
“Government has got it wrong. They need to not say sorry, they need to put positive things in place that will work with Aboriginal people. Don’t say sorry if the apology is empty,” she said.
With National Sorry Day fast approaching, Grandmothers Against Removals is calling for rallies right across Australia on May 26, because this is a national tragedy. In NSW, Aunty Hazel wants to see FaCS Minister, Pru Goward make an appearance and listen to the concerns of Aboriginal communities and work with Aboriginal people rather than work on them
“Most definitely. I have said this to them, they need to come out. “When they’re looking at making policies about Aboriginal people, and any other group, they need to come out to the people, they need to sit down, they need to talk to the people, listen to the people’s views and understand their anger, their frustration is born out of love, and frustration at the system who is failing them. They need to understand that upfront, and they need to suck it up,” she said.
“We want the entire community across Australia to go out and rally. It doesn’t have to be large; friends, family, whoever they can get there, people in a wheelchair if they have to, to go to the DoCS offices and make the same demands that this stop, our children need to be brought home, there needs to be a restoration for our children.”