Children and Young Persons (Care And Protection) Amendment (Family Is Culture) Bill 2022

8th November 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (18:17): I am very pleased to contribute to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Family is Culture) Bill 2022. The bill is of great significance and has been a long time coming. I had hoped to see the original Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Family Is Culture Review) Bill 2021, which I introduced with former member of the other place Mr David Shoebridge, debated long before now, but here we are. I appreciate that the Minister has acted in good faith to get the bill to this point. I recognise the member for Port Stephens, who was very involved in the preparation of the 2021 bill, of which I had carriage. It would be fair to say that she and I were disappointed by the way in which the bill was truncated—we just could not get it there—so it is important that this bill is dealt with in the most respectful of ways.

We would not be debating the bill if it were not for the work of Mr David Shoebridge, who has long championed this cause and the need to act on the 2019 findings of Professor Megan Davis' Family is Culture report. Mr Shoebridge introduced the 2021 bill because the Government said it would start its response to the report only in 2024. That was an outrageous failure and was clearly not good enough. Of course, these long-awaited reforms should only ever be about advancing the welfare of children first and foremost, and, in particular, the cultural ties of First Nations children to their families. I note that while the bill does not respond to all of Professor Davis' recommendations, it does respond to some important ones. I accept the comments of the Minister for Families and Communities in the other place that public consultation on some of the more complex requirements will continue and that a further round of reforms will be forthcoming next year. I will make sure that happens to the best of my ability, regardless of the make-up of the new Parliament.

I do not intend to speak for long, but I feel it is important to place my views on the record, given I had carriage of Mr Shoebridge's bill in this place. I have not forgotten the conclusions of the Family is Culture report, which described catastrophic rates of removal of First Nations children by the child protection system, poor outcomes and a failure to recognise the harm of removing a child from their culture and country. The Stolen Generations did not end in the 1950s, the 1960s or even the 1970s. They are real and are still happening now. I feel a sense of shame and alarm knowing that Aboriginal children are 11 times more likely to be taken from their families than non-Aboriginal children. Any decent, right-minded person would feel a sense of alarm and shame about those kinds of numbers. Further, First Nations children removed from their families and placed in out-of-home care are more than 15 times as likely to be under Youth Justice supervision than those who are not. That dramatically increases the likelihood of that child ending up in adult incarceration. However uncomfortable that makes members feel, it remains up to us to fix it. I believe the bill is a genuine attempt to start that process.

I note that the bill differs somewhat from the Shoebridge bill in that it still provides the courts and agencies with some flexibility when placing First Nations children in out-of-home care. The bill requires that all active efforts are made to keep the child with family, kin and community first and foremost, and that a court would need to be satisfied that those objectives are met before even thinking about placing an Aboriginal child in the care of a non-Aboriginal family. I accept that change in the Government bill, given that the court will be required to preserve the sense of identity of a First Nations child as well as their connection to culture, heritage, family and community first and foremost. If we are ever going to turn back the shameful tide of the number of First Nations children currently in out-of-home care in New South Wales, we must act now and not in two years.

I accept that this type of reform is extremely difficult to navigate. It is also critical to address the very important issues identified in the Family is Culture review. I appreciate that the Minister has brought forward some of those reforms in the Government's time line. It is not everything that is required, but it is certainly a good start. We cannot give up on the rest of these reforms. Every year that it is delayed, more First Nations children are likely to be removed from their families and culture, perhaps experiencing the long-term intergenerational harms that the Family is Culture review identified and urged us to fix. I again acknowledge the work of Mr David Shoebridge on this issue. I also thank the Minister for Families and Communities, the Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones, for introducing the bill and for the many meaningful discussions that we have had over recent months. I look forward to working with the Government and the Minister of the day to continue the work that has been done in the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. I commend the bill to the House.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate here

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