The recent revelations about systemic child protection failures in the Northern Territory as reported by The Australian are no surprise — as Jacinta Price has pointed out — to those familiar with the circumstances on the ground in some Indigenous communities.
Child protection authorities Australia-wide are reluctant to remove Indigenous children from clearly dysfunctional families for ‘cultural’ reasons related to the legacy of the Stolen Generations.
The response by the many federal and state politicians, and echoed by other commentators, is that — as a matter of fundamental principle — culture should never be used as an excuse to fail to remove a child from harm’s way.
Child welfare should of course take precedence over culture, and children should never be treated differently in modern Australian based on race — as currently occurs under Australia’s ‘apartheid’ Indigenous child protection regime (as labelled privately to me by a well-informed veteran of the system).
But if these principles are to be put into practice, this will not only mean removing more Indigenous children. It will also mean stopping the common practice of placing children back into the same communities in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACCP) which often leads to children being placed back in harm’s way in unsafe ‘kinship care’ placements into which non-Indigenous children would not be placed.
All child protection reform takes political will — as the recent ground-breaking reforms in NSW demonstrate.
This is doubly so regarding Indigenous child protection, as the Indigenous lobby is shouting about a ‘new stolen generation’ and campaigning hard to reduce the number of child removals and increase compliance with the ACPP.
The political stakes are high; because the battle over Indigenous child protection is really a battle over the ‘separatist’ experiment with Aboriginal self-determination in rural and remote ‘homeland’ communities.
If all the children who need removing are removed, and not returned via the ACCP, this will bring the long-term future of the homelands into doubt — and thereby jeopardise the future of the taxpayer-funded ‘Aboriginal industry’.
Hence the real political challenge facing policymakers is to stop the politics of Indigenous affairs taking precedence over the best interests of vulnerable Indigenous children.