Two Indigenous peak advocacy groups have urged the Western Australian government to reject a child protection bill that went before the state parliament on Tuesday saying that crucial amendments need to be made before it is passed.
The Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council together with SNAICC- the National Voice for our Children want Section 81 of the proposed Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2019 (WA) revised, claiming that it may lead to violations of the human rights of vulnerable Indigenous children and their families.
The proposed amendment bill was introduced to the WA Parliament in November last year.
The two peak groups claim that Section 81, which refers to the Placement of Children, allows for an Aboriginal child to be removed from their parents following consultation with only one of the child’s family members.
"The Bill will further disempower Aboriginal families and children, who already experience systemic discrimination in society and the out-of-home care sector," a joint statement from SNAICC and Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council said.
"The proposed law goes against human rights principles set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is supported by the Australian government," the statement said.
Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council advisor, Hannah McGlade on Tuesday told NITV News there needs to be more family engagement before children are removed.
“This legislation is not in accordance with the best practice principles. The legislation also is not consistent with the human rights that we see clearly in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people or the rights of the child,” said Ms McGlade.
“We think that if we don't have real change in this legislation, what we're going to see is an even further widening of the gap in relation to the removal of Aboriginal children.”
Indigenous children make up 55 per cent of all children in out of home care in Western Australia according to the 2019 Productivity Commission’s report.
The Family Matters report found WA had the highest over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care nationally.
“There's an estimation that this [number of Indigenous children in OOHC] will consider considerably rise without substantive reforms. So this is really critical for us that we start empowering Aboriginal families and communities to make decisions in the best interests of Aboriginal children,” said Ms McGlade.
Ms McGlade said both SNAICC and the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council agreed that Queensland and Victoria have the best-practice models which empower Aboriginal families and Aboriginal community organisations to be taking an active role.
“We want to see those model provisions being actively considered in West Australia [but] what we see instead is whittling away, of the provision of self-determination and we're seeing quite a retrograde legislation in West Australia,” she said.
In a written statement to NITV News, the Assistant Director-General Policy and Service Delivery from the Department of Communities, Helen Nys rejected that Section 81 related to the consultation as to whether a child should be removed from their parents.
Ms Nys said the bill will strengthen the current consultation requirements and will ensure that a family member, an approved Aboriginal representative and an officer of the Department who has relevant knowledge of the child and/or family will all need to be consulted before placement arrangements are made.
The Department of Communities said they acknowledge Aboriginal family-led decision making isn't included in the legislation but the department is open to legislative changes in the future.
"Legislation is not required to begin implementing family-led decision making in the Western Australian context," said Ms Nys.
"A Department of Communities pilot is beginning to progress this work and build the capacity of the sector as we move towards this type of practice," she said.