Australia's new Children’s Commissioner says the protection and promotion of the rights of First Nations children will be a priority during her five year term, but the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children has renewed calls for a First Nation's Children's Commissioner.
Anne Hollonds began her role at the Australian Human Rights Commission this week vowing to make the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child protection and out-of-home care systems a key focus of her work.
"My role is all about trying to make visible, the issues affecting the rights and well being of children across Australia, and to monitor the policies and service systems - how well are they supporting the needs, addressing the needs of children and their families who are looking after them?
"When it comes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, to be frank, the policies and the service systems are failing our children and failing their families," she said.
"So, addressing this problem, these long and entrenched problems that we were dealing with, is a key priority for me right here, right now, in week one."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are being removed from their families at more than 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous children.
Commissioner Hollonds told NITV News that the number of children in out of home care and the rate of suicide among First Nations children is deeply concerning.
"We know that there are particular issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, including suicides of children as young as 10.
"If I can speak as a mother and a grandmother I'm absolutely heartbroken when I hear these reports. It's completely unacceptable that in a country as rich as Australia, that we are unable to create the conditions that support the well-being of our children."
The National Children’s Commissioner is a statutory position responsible for protecting and promoting the rights of all children in Australia, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children SNAICC has long called for a dedicated First Nations Children’s Commissioner.
In a statement to NITV News, SNAICC CEO Richard Weston welcomed Commissioner Hollands appointment, but renewed calls for a new role to look at the specific issues facing Indigenous children and young people.
“We look forward to working with Commissioner Hollands towards improving the health and wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“If we want to truly close the gap in outcomes for our kids, we must have a dedicated national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people to ensure our children’s rights are upheld.
“The upcoming launch of the Family Matters report will once again shine a light on the alarming rate of over-representation of our children in out-of-home care, and the need for national Aboriginal-led solutions to lead the way for reform.”
Commissioner Hollonds said she is keen to work with SNAICC and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Commissioners in the states and territories.
"What I'm aiming for is better national coordination. At the moment in Australia, it's a bit of a lottery where you're born. And we need to we need to ensure much better national coordination and accountabilities across the jurisdictions and the portfolios.
"I do know that the way that we've been trying to manage these very very difficult issues the way that we've been trying to protect the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children so far we haven't done enough. If we failed. So we need to fix that immediately we need to we need to really move this very very quickly now."