Queensland Ombudsman Phil Clarke has been investigating why children born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers in Queensland are far less likely to be registered at birth.
The under-registration rate in the state is 15-18 per cent for Indigenous births compared with 1.8 per cent for children born to non-Indigenous mothers, according to 2014 analysis by Queensland Health.
In the ombudsman's report into the disparity, tabled in Queensland's parliament on Friday, key potential contributing factors were identified which demonstrate a failure of the state's Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) in catering to the needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.
These contributing factors were listed as: "the fees and penalties associated with late birth registration; a clear perception that there is a cost involved in registering a birth; the fee for a birth certificate and the absence of a fee waiver policy; the shift to online birth registration, particularly for remote Indigenous people as it require computer literacy as well as access to a computer, the internet and a printer; [and] methods of interacting with Indigenous clients that may not be culturally appropriate".
In a damning assessment of the office of BDM, the ombudsman said it "has taken inefficient action" to improve the situation, and "has made no attempt to monitor rates of Indigenous birth registration or examine the current extent of the disparity".
Mr Clarke found this to be "unreasonable and improperly discriminatory" under the Ombudsman Act.
"While BDM has made some efforts to engage with Indigenous communities... to increase awareness of the benefits of birth registration, the success of its efforts was clearly inadequate," the ombudsman's report reads.
It says BDM's online system for registering a birth is responsible for community misinformation about whether a cost is involved, saying "it creates a clear perception" there is a cost for registration when "the cost is to obtain a birth certificate".
It also highlights that the office's use of written communication may not be best practice for contacting people living in regional and remote parts of the state, and that the registration process "fails to consider the cultural practices of Indigenous Queenslanders".
The ombudsman recommended the current process and approach to be reviewed by the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, as well as for a cross-agency strategy to be developed.
In a statement to NITV News, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Attorney-General said the department is still considering the report.
"While there are many cultural and societal challenges associated with the issue of the under-registration of Indigenous births, the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG) welcomes and supports any recommendations that will see further increases in awareness and access to birth registration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for Queenslanders more generally."
A review of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act is also underway.