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Indigenous People Worse Off 20 Years After the Bringing Them Home Report


Thursday, 25th May 2017 at 8:49 am
Rachel McFadden, Journalist
It has been two decades since the landmark Bringing Them Home report shone a light on the stolen generation and paved the way for reconciliation, but Indigenous leaders, child welfare agencies and human right organisations say Indigenous Australians, today, are worse off.


Thursday, 25th May 2017
at 8:49 am
Rachel McFadden, Journalist


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Indigenous People Worse Off 20 Years After the Bringing Them Home Report
Thursday, 25th May 2017 at 8:49 am

It has been two decades since the landmark Bringing Them Home report shone a light on the stolen generation and paved the way for reconciliation, but Indigenous leaders, child welfare agencies and human right organisations say Indigenous Australians, today, are worse off.

Coinciding with the 20 years anniversary, which takes place on Friday, a review has been published measuring the level of uptake from the 54 recommendations and exploring whether the situation has improved since the first report.

The 1997 milestone report, published by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, called on the nation to acknowledge, apologise and reparate for the “devastation” caused by forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their homes.

“The past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. That devastation cannot be addressed unless the whole community listens with an open heart and mind to the stories of what has happened in the past and, having listened and understood, commits itself to reconciliation,” the 1997 report said.

Coming out of The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, the report concluded that Indigenous families and communities have “endured gross violations of their human rights” and that the Commonwealth’s decision to forcibly remove children from their homes was “an act of genocide”.

The inquiry, which included more than 500 testimonials, found that between one in three and one in 10 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.

The Bringing Them Home report made 54 recommendations, calling for a national apology, reparations to those who suffered because of forced removal of children, and training about the history and effects of forced removal as precursors to reconciliation.

But Aboriginal leaders, human rights and child welfare advocates have said that while the report’s recommendations provided a pivotal opportunity to address systemic discrimination and disadvantage and opened the door for healing and reconciliation, successive governments have failed to make the intent of the report become a reality.

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency CEO Muriel Bamblett told Pro Bono News since the publication of the report, Indigenous Australians were “far worse off”.

“If you look at the numbers for contemporary removal, did we get a resolution for the stolen generation, no. We did get an apology but if you look at the 54 recommendations, I think 54 were manageable, I thought they were achievable, but of course the most significant of them was reparation…and that has never been addressed,” Bamblett said.  

She said the national apology was a necessary first step, not a departure point where the issues affecting Indigenous Australians due to the forcible removals are put in the past.

“I think we haven’t come to terms with the high levels of trauma, grief and loss and thought about impact of the removal,” Bamblett said.

“When that report came out it opened a wound for many people and it never closed it.”

The latest figures from June 2016 reveal 16,846 Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care, compared to 2,785 when the report was first tabled.

Since the 2008 national apology, Aboriginal children in care has increased by 65 per cent.

Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos told Pro Bono News  “we still have a long way to go before we can say that we have addressed the recommendations of the report as they were intended”.

“We need to ask ourselves why 20 years from the report we are seeing a record number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care,” Jackomos said.

“Our biggest challenges are how to break the cycle of trauma, create strong families, and get children back home quicker when they need to be placed in care.”

Centre for Child Welfare Deb Tsorbaris told Pro Bono News the report was significant “not only for its investigation into forced removal of Aboriginal children, but for building on a-political momentum for an apology and for the rights of Aboriginal families today”.

Tsorbaris said there was still a lot of work to do particularly in reparations for families of Aboriginal people forcibly removed by government.

“The challenge to keep any report relevant is to maintain the intent of its recommendations, despite changes in government or support structures.

“The biggest current issues in light of the 20th anniversary of Bringing Them Home is repairing the intergenerational trauma of the Stolen Generations and breaking the traumatic cycle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removal today.”

A report tabled by the Healing Foundation at Parliament on Tuesday estimated that 15,000 members of the Stolen Generations were still living and a further 160,000 family members were impacted by having children taken away.

Healing Foundation board chair Steve Larkin said reparation for those affected was necessary.

The Healing Foundation’s report said: “A universal, safe and culturally appropriate scheme for financial redress is justified as acknowledgment of past wrongs, as redress for health and social disadvantage resulting from removal, as financial assistance given the lifelong socio-economic effects of forcible removal, and as acknowledgment that native title and land rights schemes have not significantly advantaged the Stolen Generations due to their removal from family and country.”

It report outlined four priorities to achieve long-term change and urged the Federal government to:

  • conduct a comprehensive needs analysis to inform the delivery of more effective services for Stolen Generations members
  • establish a national scheme for reparations to ensure equal access to financial redress and culturally appropriate healing services,
  • co-ordinate compulsory training around Stolen Generations trauma so that the organisations working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are better equipped to provide effective and appropriate services.
  • initiate a comprehensive study of intergenerational trauma and how to tackle it.

Rachel McFadden  |  Journalist |  @ProBonoNews

Rachel is a journalist specialising in the social sector.

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