The organisation SNAICC, which calls itself the National Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children, has blasted "systemic failures" and called for investment in community led solutions after the deaths of three young people in the NT.
The Northern Territory Coroner heard evidence last week about the apparent suicides and sexual abuse of three teenage girls in separate remote communities in 2016 and 2017.
No one has been charged over the deaths, which are being examined together because of the similar issues that have been exposed.
The tragedies have seen Territory and federal Government responses – including an apology from NT Police for “inadequate” investigations, the establishment of a multi-agency taskforce and a federal review of mandatory reporting rules in relation to child sex abuse.
Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett is the Chair of SNAICC and says these measures cannot be implemented without First Nations involvement and oversight.
Speaking to NITV News, she said the establishment of a national independent Indigenous Children’s Commissioner was a vital part of reforming the system.
“This is about protecting and looking after the best interests of Aboriginal children no matter where they live in this country and ensuring their rights are protected,” Ms Bamblett said.
“And I think it’s critical that we have an independent umpire that basically says, ‘this is not good enough’.”
Ms Bamblett says reports and inquiries consistently call out the “dire” state of Indigenous children’s rights, but fail to result in “action… responsibility or accountability” from governments.
Taskforce labelled ‘knee-jerk reaction’
SNAICC’s calls follows the establishment of an NT government-initiated taskforce earlier in the year, which will see agencies based in communities share information about at-risk families.
Ms Bamblett said the initiative doesn’t adequately address systemic failings and has expressed concern it wouldn’t involve communities and First Nations’ expertise.
“Initiating a taskforce is another knee-jerk reaction by the NT Government that ignores the need for long-term and dedicated commitment to change,” she said.
“When I was on the Board of Inquiry into Child Protection in the NT in 2010, we called on the NT government to invest in prevention and early intervention, but still those supports aren't in place.”
Earlier this week Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt criticised “all tiers of government” in The Australian newspaper for failing to act sooner and called out an unconscious bias from police towards Indigenous communities.
He said a review into mandatory reporting when children present with sexually transmitted infections will be part of the government’s response.
Ms Bamblett says there needs to be a bigger focus on mental health, community healing and therapeutic responses.
She says part of that response should include Indigenous-specific children’s helplines in every state and territory.
“Every other state has a really comprehensive mental health service for our children that they can go to. What does the NT have? They don’t have those, and they don’t have them in remote areas, so how do you build it in?" she asked.
“Culture is a protective factor for our children. We must focus on community-led support and healing for our communities, with connection to culture at the heart of our children’s wellbeing.”
“We owe it to our children to uphold their right to be happy and healthy, feeling safe and secure in their identities. With genuine commitment from all governments and investing in Aboriginal-led solutions, we can lead the way.”