27 February 2015 | General Interest
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has highlighted the alarmingly high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Indigenous child removals in a speech to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.
Speaking at Parliament House in Sydney, Mr Rudd pointed to figures that show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians make up only 2.3 per cent of the adult population, but made up 27.4 per cent of the adult prison population.
“We are seeing the emergence of this new crisis in Indigenous Australia beyond anything seen before,” Mr Rudd said.
“It is the subject of escalating anxiety in Indigenous communities across the country. For this reason, I argue we now need a further Closing the Gap target on reducing Indigenous incarceration rates.
“The current trend will continue to be destructive for Indigenous families and communities nationwide.”
Mr Rudd said the data on the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was “dramatic”.
He observed that there had been a 400 per cent increase in the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care since the 1997 release of the Bringing Them Home report.
Worryingly, there has been a 65 per cent spike in child removals since the National Apology, increasing from 5,000 Indigenous children in out-of-home care in 2008 to almost 15,000 children at 30 June 2014.
“While child neglect and the safety of all Australian children, including Indigenous children, is paramount, Indigenous leaders argue that alternative caring arrangements for such children are not being worked out with extended families, as they could and should be,” Mr Rudd said.
“State and Territory jurisdictions have primary responsibility in this area, but funding for community- based services appears to be dwindling.
“Professionals from within the sector point to existing barriers to recruiting Indigenous people into the kinship care system – the current process of recruitment itself, remuneration that values Indigenous kinship carers at much less than foster carers, and the professional and material supports that currently make caring for kids too difficult – as reasons why alternative caring systems are not working as they were designed to.
“That is why an increasing number of Indigenous leaders are beginning to speak with growing urgency of a new, emerging, ‘stolen generation.’
“Because of the direct relationship between this and the exploding incarceration rates for Indigenous Australians, the separation of children from wider family and kinship groups at an unprecedented rate must also now be explicitly addressed within the Closing the Gap framework.
“The safety of the child must always come first. The question is: where are they better cared for, and how is that best arranged.”