MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It’s been seven years today since prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations.
But the reality is day-to-day life hasn’t improved much for many Aborigines, especially children.
Since the national apology, the number of Indigenous children taken out of their homes and placed in care has increased by more than 60 per cent.
In total, they account for 35 per cent of all children in out-of-home care.
One former senior Liberal politician describes it as a tragedy and says the Federal Government is struggling with its handling of indigenous affairs.
Michael Edwards has this report.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: More than 15,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children live outside their homes and in the care of foster families or state institutions.
It’s a staggering statistic, given Indigenous children make up only 4.4 per cent of children in Australia.
Vanessa Colbung runs the West Australian branch of Grandmothers Against Removals, a national network of grandmothers and families who have had family members taken away by authorities.
VANESSA COLBUNG: We help the families check out, you know, if there’s any breaches of the policies or legislations and then, you know, if it doesn’t seem fair than we fight for them children to get back.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Vanessa Colbung says it needn’t be this way.
She believes many of the children removed by welfare authorities would be better left within the Aboriginal community.
VANESSA COLBUNG: We, as Aboriginal people, it’s been our job for thousands of years, you know, to cater and care for each others’- as women, to cater and care for each other’s children.
Now that’s born and instilled in us. Even if we’re standing with people that aren’t blood relatives, we’re automatically watching out for them little kids that’s running around, you know.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: According to figures released this week by the Productivity Commission, since Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the number of Aboriginal children removed from their families has risen by 65 per cent.
Aboriginal groups say if non-Aboriginal children were being removed from their families at a similar rate there would be a national inquiry.
OLIVIA NIGRO: It’s absolutely unacceptable that in 2015 we see another Stolen Generation.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Olivia Nigro is a social justice campaigner and researcher for Grandmothers Against Removals.
She’s helped organise a rally to be held today outside Parliament House in Canberra today.
OLIVIA NIGRO: As a matter of urgency, the grandmothers are calling on the Government to implement a national restoration program to see immediate pathways of restoration for these children back to their families.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: Many see it as a fundamental failure of government policy.
Fred Chaney is a former aboriginal affairs minister in Malcolm Fraser’s government and a long-time board member of Reconciliation Australia. He views the high rate of Aboriginal children being removed from their families as a tragedy.
FRED CHANEY: The greatest difficulty governments have always had and continue to have is working with Aboriginal people instead of working on Aboriginal people, and the sort of problems that give rise to child removal – and this is a current tragedy – can’t be dealt with other than by sort of total community-wide approaches.
MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Government released its annual Closing the Gap report this week. It revealed a failure to meet key targets in health, education and employment.
Tony Abbott came to power promising to focus on improving the lives of Indigenous people.
But Fred Chaney is harsh in his assessment of the Government’s performance.
FRED CHANEY: I think they’re struggling. As always, the problem is the link or making the connection between good intentions – and the Government has got good intentions – but making the link between good intentions and good outcomes.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Former Liberal aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney ending Michael Edwards’ report.