A forum has been held in Sydney to address the high numbers of Aboriginal children living in out-of-home care.
Tara Callinan

19 Sep 2014 - 5:05 PM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2015 - 12:32 PM

A forum has been held in Sydney to tackle the staggering number of Aboriginal children living in out-of-home care.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up five per cent of Australia's child population, yet represent 34 per cent of children in out-of-home care.

Grandmothers, community members and NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge have formed a united front in response to the forced removal of Aboriginal children, which they addressed at last night's "Still Stolen" forum in Sydney.

Grandmothers Against Removals campaigner Aunty Hazel told the crowd that authorities needed to engage with families and communities before removing children.

"If the parents are having a problem, talk to them and engage them because these kids don't just belong to mum and dad; they belong to us."

Aunty Hazel has joined forces with the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care to propose and implement an Aboriginal Community Expert Committee.

"It will empower communities and families in how these things have been conducted and allow them to access services and prevent removals from families," she said.

Greens MP David Shoebridge told the forum that Aboriginal groups were united in efforts to tackle the problem.

"It's Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), it's National Aboriginal Strategic Alliance (NASA), and these organisations that are talking and sharing their stories and saying 'We want control over our families and children to ensure they are being taken care of in their own culture and kin'," he said.

NASA spokesman Uncle Albert told NITV it was important that Aboriginal children stayed connected to their culture "so that they can still practice tradition and be involved in the culture of their tribal groups and not elsewhere outside of that."

Uncle Albert’s own baby taken from him in June 2012. He told NITV News the process was heavy handed and traumatic.

"[There was] no prior warning, no intervention, no process before they knocked on the door," he said.

"When we took baby outside onto the road there was 40, 50-odd police out there to ensure the removal was done."

The public forum condemned the use of excessive police force in child removal cases such as the case of eight Aboriginal children removed from a family home in Mooree in January.

Earlier this week, Tony Abbott dodged a question about the conduct of New South Wales police officers responsible for removing the children in that case.

Mr Abbott took the question from NITV news reporter Myles Morgan in Arnhem Land, after an NITV exclusive aired showing shocking footage of the raid.

"Prime Minister I need to take you back to January in Mooree when NSW police in riot gear raided a home to remove eight Aboriginal children," Mr Morgan said. "Is that an appropriate use of force?"

The prime minister began his response by stating he had been on the Truancy Team in Arukune in 2009, where he was told his presence was helpful because he “looked a bit like a police officer.”

"I think that it is important to get the kids to school," Mr Abbott continued. "It is important to get the kids to school and I think all reasonable measures should be considered to get the kids to school because there’s no way they’re going to get a decent education if they don’t go to school and a decent education is the foundation of a good life."

But Mr Morgan was unsatisfied with that response, and persisted.

"That's not the answer I was looking for, prime minister," he said.

"They went to the home to remove the kids from their home, so they were given over to FACS. Is it an appropriate use of force for police in riot gear to go into homes and remove eight Indigenous children?"

Again, Mr Abbott was unwilling to address the raid itself.

"I think it’s perfectly appropriate to try to get the kids to school," he said.