Project: A passionate voice for change: A Brief History of SNAICC 1983 to 2013 (2013)
Transcript – A passionate voice for change – A Brief History of SNAICC 1983 – 2013
Transcribed 6 December 2013
MURIEL BAMBLETT: SNAICC was created because of the need in the Aboriginal community. Clearly there were a lot of Aboriginal people that were involved in the establishment of SNAICC, Aboriginal people that were politically active in their communities – Margaret Ah Kee, Raline Yui, Jenny Prior. Obviously I couldn’t go without mentioning Brian Butler and his influence and the sixteen years that he put into SNAICC.
BRIAN BUTLER: There were a whole host of people who were responsible for launching SNAICC. Molly Dyer and her mum, Jenny Prior from Queensland, Margaret Ah Kee from Cairns, John Austin was there, Alf Bamblett was there – there were people from every state. We got the cream of the crop as far as representation from communities. SNAICC was very fortunate to get those people because we had a person like Nigel D’Souza who was absolutely committed to what he was doing. He, then, was very much the centrepiece of our operation, and Molly allowed him to do that.
FRANK HYTTEN: SNAICC represents the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are concerned about their children and families. SNAICC is the advocate for children and families, whether they are in the Out-Of-Home-Care type system or the Child Protection system or, in fact, the Early Years system.
BRIAN BUTLER: People are starting to feel a little bit guilty that this generation wasn’t doing things fast enough to give those children the confidence that they needed to reach their full potential. I went to a national Labour Party conference in Canberra. We bought a room in the same hotel the Labour Party were having their conference. Eight or ten of us lived in that one room above all of the politicians so that we could have access to Gerry Hand and all those fellows. And we all went to work on politicians, trying to convince them that it’s going to be the right thing to set about having an inquiry (the reasons that we’re having the Child Placement Principle acknowledged and enforced throughout this country).
JULIAN POCOCK: If it wasn’t for SNAICC’s efforts – and the efforts of many others, SNAICC, I don’t think, would ever claim these things as just as its own. But certainly in relation to the Stolen Generations and the National Apology. If you think about something in the last 20 or 30 years that’s really impacted on the consciousness of pretty much everyone in Australia, it’s hard to think of something in the social policy area bigger than that, and that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for SNAICC. It needed others as well, but if SNAICC wasn’t leading that charge and wasn’t part of that mix of agencies that were pushing it, it wouldn’t have happened.
BRIAN BUTLER: We were all aware that our kids – our Aboriginal kids including the Torres Straits – nothing that they could see was going to be, they could feel, they were being a part of. So we started thinking of ways in which we could do this, and it was then that SNAICC decided that we will have a special day for our Aboriginal and Islander kids.
DAWN WALLAM : This year marks the 25th anniversary of National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day (NAICD)
NAICD ADVERTISEMENT: This year the 4th of August is all about me. My family, my community and my culture all keep me strong. So can you!
BRIAN BUTLER: We could see that children were starting to connect to what we were doing. There was a little bit of misunderstanding by children in the early days and the setting up of AICCA’s and SNAICC. But, eventually, children could see that we were fair dinkum, and we knew that we had to be fair dinkum with our kids.
NIGEL D’SOUZA: Those days it was around convincing governments – state and territory and federal governments – that they should be listening to Aboriginal people in this field. The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle had been around for some time, so [were] a lot of the AICCA’s. We were, on their behalf, focussed on getting state and territory governments to actually implement that principle and, not only that, but also to engage Aboriginal child care agencies in the work that they did at the state level in relation to child welfare.
DESLEY THOMPSON: Child Placement Principles: ensuring that a child will go to family first. If that’s not going to be the case, it is ensuring that the child remains in the community. And, if that’s not the case, then the child will go to another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family. Again, it’s just maintaining that connection to culture and maintaining connection to community as well. Along the way, we’ve been sitting at the table making sure that that is put in there and stays in there. And SNAICC sees that as a national position that every state and territory should have in Australia, ensuring that it is maintained and adhered to those principles in each and every Act.
MURIEL BAMBLETT: The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle really came out of the drive of Aboriginal people through SNAICC. Aunty Molly Dyer travelled overseas, went to America and Canada to look at the Indigenous Child Welfare Act over there and how the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, as it’s known here, was applied over in America. So Aunty Molly was inspired by what they were doing in America and brought back the policy direction for the government here in Australia. It was slow to be enacted. In some states it was policy, in some states it was legislation, in some states the wording was very weak so governments and courts could (and if they wanted to) apply it.
Now, it’s much stronger. The language and the compliance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is much stronger today than it ever has been. So SNAICC’s role at that time was really around getting national consistency and building an evidence-base around how the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle really was in the best interests of Aboriginal children. It was about nurturing, it was about stability, keeping children connected is in the best interest. And it’s actually the fundamental right of every Aboriginal child to be connected to their culture.
JULIAN POCOCK: SNAICC, with a national body working to represent broadly the interests of Aboriginal and Islander children, but with a membership base that was very small and quite narrow. The agency’s members at that time were predominantly the AICCA’s, and the nation owes a great debt of gratitude to those agencies for the work they’ve done over several generations. But the AICCA’s had fought so hard, for so long, to have a national body that kept their vision alive and kept some focus on the really hard-end issues around child protection and the ongoing overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Islander children in the child protection system and the stark reality that most of those kids were still going into non-Aboriginal foster care and still being lost to communities.
We didn’t have early childhood services amongst our members and we didn’t have the breadth of Aboriginal community-based services as members that were working with children and young people in other spheres. So it just wasn’t sustainable that we could claim to be this national body representing all the interests of Aboriginal children yet have so many of the Aboriginal community-controlled agencies that were working with kids not as members of SNAICC.
JULIAN POCOCK: Something we did is we went back to the transcript of the 1979 conference. So we have that material and we went back to it and there was many, many, many delegates there talking about that what we have to do to make a difference in the long term for Aboriginal children is get more Aboriginal kindergartens on the ground, to get more early years services on the ground and to make sure (and this is in the voice of the people speaking) that our children are ready for school and can cope with school and do well at school.
So there was a message there right from the start that we need all the early years services sector and agencies involved, because that was going to prevent the child welfare issues that we know are so damaging. So, to their credit, the national executive said we really have to reform the structure of the organisation – we have to broaden the membership base, doing work to prevent the sort of harm that was bringing so many Aboriginal children into the child protection system in the first place.
JULIAN POCOCK: We also reached out to mainstream services and started to prosecute an agenda around cultural competence. It’s the right of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in their own country to enter into any service in their country and be treated respectfully and well, and receive a quality service. For that to happen it meant that mainstream services needed to be shown, they needed to be told, they needed to be held to account about how they work with their country’s Indigenous peoples. What that turned into was the SNAICC Resource Services. And it was because we were prepared to, firstly, broaden the membership base of the agency to focus on the early years and child development issues and, secondly, to be the leading agency that engaged with non-Aboriginal agencies about how they work with Indigenous families that government was prepared and enthusiastic about significantly investing its investment in SNAICC. So we went from a core funding contract of about $200, 000 a year to an extra million dollars per year for the SNAICC Resource Service.
SHARRON WILLIAMS: Some of our major achievements and our biggest impacts have come from our resource funding for our resource service. That’s allowed us to put actual resources into services across Australia – our own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, as well as to work with mainstream services in partnering with Aboriginal services.
SCENES FROM CONFERENCE VIDEOS
CINDY BLACKSTOCK: … parents know they have a right to clean water and they’re not getting it, while our governments are spending all kinds of money.
KATHY GUTHADJAKA (GOTHA): In language
AUDIENCE MEMBER/DELEGATE: That’s how it’s gotta be. We’ve barely orientated people … and, if we’re not looking after our own, we’re looking after somebody else’s child
SPEAKER: Our kids have transition plans when they leave care. What are the transition plans that these big NGO’s in order to put that control back to community and put the community service back on board, because … APPLAUSE
SPEAKER: They’re incredibly important events. When the 1979 Aboriginal Child Survival Conference was convened by VACCA, here in Victoria … it was out of that conference that the movement to create SNAICC solidified into creating the organisation. Conferences, I think, are important because they bring so many people together and they give you an opportunity to really touch base with communities and people, and ground the organisation in what needs to be done.
FRANK HYTTEN: So there’s a range of issues around out-of-home-care, around child protection, around the early years framework. We need to continue to do the work we’re doing. We need to continue to support our membership, we need to continue to represent membership’s views to government, we need to continue to make partnerships with NGO’s, we need to continue to develop strategies and mechanisms and tools by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gain increasing control for what they’re doing and, ultimately, are dictating or deciding policy and process by which they deliver services to their own communities.
BRIAN BUTLER: Today, SNAICC, the AICCA’s, organisations like the Congress I’m involved in now, are still working out ways in which we can support those young people, particularly those kids who are in foster care and in institutions. And the major thing we keep saying to them we know that the violence that you’ve experienced, and all sorts of violence that exists at all levels of their life, is something that we can do something about, that it’s not going to be there forever.
SHARRON WILLIAMS: We have grown from a secretariat that was two people to a secretariat that has 15 staff and has the capacity to do so much more in terms of how we represent Aboriginal people across Australia.