Australia

‘Urgent need’: Demands for national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up more than a third of children in out-of-home care. Source: Supplied

There are widespread calls for a national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people over an ‘urgent need’ to combat discrimination and disadvantage.

A push is being made to implement a national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people to empower a dedicated voice against “persistent discrimination and disadvantage”.

Australia’s peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children SNAICC is leading the calls on behalf of a coalition of more than 80 organisations backing the appointment.

A Family Matters report released this month detailed the troubling extent of their over-representation in the child protection system.

With fears expressed the number of Indigenous young people in out of care could double over the next 10 years.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over-represented in the child protection system.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over-represented in the child protection system.
AAP

SNAICC Chair Muriel Bamblett said change at a national level must be enacted to prevent children and young people from falling through the cracks of the federal system.

“There is an urgent need to establish a dedicated national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people,” she said.

“It is time that the federal government establish a dedicated commissioner so that our children’s rights receive a dedicated focus at a national level.”

A position paper outlining the advocacy coalition’s case for the position explains that the appointment should form part of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

It is pushing for the role to report to Parliament on human rights concerns confronting children and young people, review existing Commonwealth laws and be involved in the handling of complaints.

Family Matters Co-Chair Richard Weston said a dedicated commissioner would ensure government commitments aimed at combating systematic challenges are held to account.

“Past attempts at improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have failed because no one has been held accountable,” he said.

The latest Family Matters report determined that 37.3 per cent of Australian children received out of home care – despite making up only 5.5 per cent of children.

This means that Indigenous children were 10 times more likely to be removed from their homes than those who aren’t indigenous.

“There is a lack of coherence and consistency in how Australian governments deliver services that impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” Mr Weston said.

The position paper demands the national commissioner would be legislated, have autonomy from government and be filled by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.

Victoria and South Australia have both implemented such commissioners at a state level, with South Australia last year making the appointment five years after Victoria had taken this action.

Mr Weston said the national appointment to provide greater oversight against the disproportionate disadvantage and discrimination affecting Indigenous communities.

“It is imperative that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are kept connected to family, culture and community,” Mr Weston said.

“An overarching strategy and commissioner … is essential to end the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage … and improve outcomes for our kids.”

With additional reporting from AAP

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