Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Aboriginal Principal Officers) Bill 2015

Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) — It is a pleasure to join the debate and affirm that the Greens will be supporting this bill. As has already been said, the bill amends the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to give practical effect to section 18, which would allow an Aboriginal organisation such as the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) to take over the role of the Department of Health and Human Services in relation to particular Aboriginal children on protection orders.

VACCA has indicated that it supports the bill. The Greens are strong advocates for Aboriginal self-determination, and this bill is at least a step towards that complex but critically important goal. For these reasons I am happy to say that the Greens will be voting for it.

As we have heard throughout the debate, Aboriginal children are heavily over-represented in Victoria's child protection system. That is just one of the devastating consequences of the injustices that have been done to Aboriginal people over the last 200-plus years in this country and a sobering reminder that we need to work harder and do more to try to right some of those terrible wrongs and injustices.

Victoria currently has a higher number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care than at any other time in its history, including during the period of the stolen generations. That is a sobering and terrible fact. The department is failing many of these children who are in out-of-home care on a number of counts. I want to read out some statistics which give evidence to this claim. In 2013, 84 per cent of Aboriginal children in child protection did not have a cultural support plan, 58 per cent of Aboriginal children had not been subject to any attempts to reunify them with their parents and 15 per cent of Aboriginal children in child protection did not even have a current case plan, and that is a basic legislative requirement. It is unbelievable that there are Aboriginal children in our welfare system without even this most basic level of support. And in 2013, only 51 per cent of Aboriginal children received out-of-home care placements in accordance with the Aboriginal placement principle.

As we know, section 18 sat on the books for a decade but needed additional amendments for it to function in practice. This bill provides those additional amendments, which will allow employees of Aboriginal organisations to take over the role of the department in relation to particular Aboriginal children on protection orders under section 18.

Until recently, VACCA ran a model of guardianship project as if section 18 was already functional. The project achieved some really significant results, with 13 Aboriginal children involved in the project. Despite the fact that 10 of those children had been in out-of-home care for over eight years, 6 of them were returned home to either their parents or to family members.

The main outstanding issue in relation to this bill is the perennial question of resourcing. The bill nominates a commencement date of 1 October 2016, so perhaps the government intends to fund section 18 authorisations in its next budget. I certainly hope so, and I hope the minister can confirm this for me and my parliamentary colleagues before May next year. Clearly section 18 authorisations need to be properly funded in consultation with VACCA and other Aboriginal organisations and with an evidence base. It would be pretty difficult, I imagine, for Aboriginal organisations to take on section 18 authorisations unless those authorisations were properly resourced above and beyond their existing resourcing.

In addition, I hope the minister and the department are carefully considering accountability mechanisms to support these amendments that will improve the level of compliance relating to Aboriginal children on protection orders. Additional support through the Children's Court, for example, could help both children and the relevant Aboriginal organisations when section 18 authorisations are made.

This is a good bill, and I commend the government for bringing it before the house. I hope it will bring new hope, new chances for stability, appropriate support and long-term benefits for Aboriginal children on protection orders. The Greens are pleased to support the bill, and I wish it a speedy passage.

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