• From left: Cheryl Orr, Muriel Bamblett and Matthew Priestley on The Point. (The Point)Source: The Point
Stan Grant invites a panel to reflect on SBS Insight's 'Looking after the kids' episode about child removals, which raised questions about identity and culture.
The Point
20 Apr 2016 - 10:25 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2016 - 11:29 PM


Stan Grant: Now to last night's episode of Insight on SBS. It was a confronting  program that peered behind what are often taboo subjects of abuse and neglect of children.

On the stage were five Indigenous kids who had all experienced removal - who had been fostered - most raised by non-Indigenous families. 

There were questions of identity and culture, and the response has been enormous - many Indigenous people outraged or traumatised - others though welcoming a tough conversation.

Joining us now to reflect on this divisive issue I’m joined at the desk by solicitor Cheryl Orr, in Melbourne Muriel Bamblett from the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, and via Skype from Moree, Matthew Priestly. Matt’s daughter was part of the panel on last night’s Insight.

Tell us how you dealt with bringing [your daughter] Chloe into your family and giving her the support that she needed.

Matthew Priestly: Chloe has always had support and a great understanding of who she is. The most important thing is people’ve got to understand without having a true identity you lose the process of understanding who you really are.

Stan Grant: [talking to Muriel Bamblett] One of the things that Matthew has identified is the question of identity and the question of being connected to culture. How do you maintain those links?

Muriel Bamblett: Last night we saw five very brave young people get up in front of the camera and tell their stories. And it gives a bit of a snapshot of what child protection, what the system looks like, how decisions are made and how important it is to hear the voice of young people and how to learn from the voice of young people.

Aboriginality and strength of Aboriginality is important to all Aboriginal children.

Stan Grant: And Cheryl you were watching the program last night, I want to get your broad thoughts about what you saw. And some of the criticism of course says that this conflated the issues of neglect and abuse and removal, with issues of culture and identity to the potential of even stigmatising the community themselves. What was your reading of how it was handled?

Cheryl Orr: Having looked at it on a number of occasions over today has told one side of the story. The sad thing about that story, is that what was evident that come through from all of the children’s experiences as now young adults, is their need and search at some stage of their lives to understand where they come from.

In relation to where they come from that is about culture, that is about identity and I would say to everybody culture is not something you can remove from a part of a whole.

This point was made in the program last night very forcefully, and that is indeed by the young people themselves. First must come the protection of children, children must be safe, they must be secure. Does that override the cultural aspect, that first kids must be found a secure home?

If children are in a placement where they’re learning culture and identity they are in a safe place because Aboriginal culture is about responsiblity and obligations to each other and our families first.

Stan Grant: (to Muriel Bamblett) How do you create those safe environments and the connection to their families and their cultures when sometimes we know it’s difficult to find carers within community, or who are related or who are even Indigenous often?

Muriel Bamblett: It's really important to bring families together and get good decisions around the safety of children and there are mechanisms, Aboriginal family led decision making.

There is no way that we would jeopardise the safety of any Aboriginal child as far as the child protection system. But a major gap in the show last night was the onus on blaming parents and not looking at the issue of poverty and neglect and institutional racism and all of those big things, and if you don’t address those things, if most of our Aboriginal families live in poverty, are experiencing neglect…

Stan Grant: Matthew, you work in communities, you directly are related to people in communities, was there too much of a focus here do you think on Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal identity and not looking at some of the causes of some of the abuse and neglect that we see that often have a socio-economic impact?

Matthew Priestly: There’s an old saying, my old man actually used to say 'you can only get one cure if a certain snake bites you ... But you got to understand the processes of what snake bit you in the first place'.

Because these trigger reactions didn’t happen overnight.

If you’ve been called 'a little Johnny' at a little age you’re going to become 'little Johnny'.

When’s the last time anyone being themselves? That’s what culture is basically all about – is having a good understanding of who you are and where you come from and actually being yourself.

The full interview

About the panellists

Professor Muriel Bamblett AM

Professor Muriel Bamblett AM is a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman who has devoted her life to advocating for the rights of Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal children.

Since 1999, she has been CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, one of the oldest Aboriginal community-controlled organisations in Victoria.

Bamblett was chairperson of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care for 10 years. It is the peak agency representing Indigenous Child and Family Services nationally.

Matthew Priestly

Matthew Priestly, whose daughter featured on SBS Insight's recent 'Looking after the kids' episode, is a community engagement officer in Moree, NSW.

Matthew is a co-founder of Desert Pea Media, which is an incorporated, non-profit association established in 2002 as a tool to bring people of all cultures together in Australia through art and storytelling, with a focus on remote and isolated communities. He has a long history of working with both contemporary and traditional indigenous media.

Cheryl Orr

Cheryl Orr, solicitor at Gonzalez and Co Family Law Chambers, is from the Gurang Gurang People. She is a member of the Law Society of NSW Indigenous Issues Committee. Cheryl has developed practice manuals for NSW Community Legal Centres in the areas of family law, parenting, and care and protection for the purpose of assisting and acting for Aboriginal clients.

In 2014 Cheryl was awarded Indigenous Lawyer of the Year by the Federal Attorney General.

Cheryl works to increase access to justice for Aboriginal people and passionately advocates for families in crisis in all family matters.

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