What do Paul Keating, Barnaby Joyce, Anthony Albanese and the Stolen Generations have in common?
A silly question? A sick joke? Not at all. What links them is the unprecedented reach of the Stolen Generations reparations plan recently announced by Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt and scheduled to commence early this year.
On August 5, Wyatt and the Prime Minister announced, as part of the government’s Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, $378 million for “a financial and wellbeing redress scheme for living Stolen Generations members who were removed as children from their families”. The scheme is to include one-off payments of $75,000 to affected individuals and a “healing assistance” payment of $7000 plus a face-to-face or written apology where desired.
It is targeted at removals that took place in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory before self-government (1978 and 1988 respectively) and child protection removals that continue to this day in the Jervis Bay Territory, which remains under Commonwealth control. It does not apply to the states, some of which have had their own arrangements.
The radical character of the plan is that it encompasses removals that have taken place under contemporary child protection policies. Previous state schemes in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania basically confined compensation claims to the preceding “protection” and “assimilation” eras. The Wyatt plan envisages compensation for decisions made since indigenous child protection was mainstreamed, thus encompassing removals made under the authority of ministers in Labor and Coalition governments since Whitlam.
The budget estimate of $378 million assumes that some 3600 individuals will qualify for a $75,000 payment, representing about one in four surviving adults born in the Northern Territory or ACT whilst under Commonwealth control. A further 12,300 “descendants” could qualify for “healing assistance”.
The plan describes itself as “survivor-focused and trauma-informed”. It comes amid claims of “another stolen generation” thirteen years after the Rudd Apology. Aboriginal “care and protection orders” and “out-of-home” placements are at a record high and a priority under the latest Closing the Gap agenda.
Keating, Joyce and Albanese
The scope of the scheme is such that even Paul Keating could be “implicated”, having been appointed Minister for Northern Australia, his first ministerial post, in the last months of the Whitlam government in 1975. This included administration of the Northern Territory. It remains to be seen how many Northern Territory individuals come forward to claim compensation for wrongful removal during his brief tenure as the responsible minister (although it would add an unintended dimension to his 1992 “we stole the children” Redfern speech). Gordon Bryant is another, having been both Aboriginal Affairs and Capital Territory minister.
Fraser government ministers responsible for child protection in the territories at various times included Ian Sinclair, Bob Ellicott and Tony Staley. In the Hawke government it was Tom Uren (for whom Albanese then worked) and Clyde Holding, who also served as Aboriginal Affairs minister. Since ACT self-government in 1988, federal government child protection responsibility has largely been confined to the remaining territory of Jervis Bay, a Commonwealth enclave on the New South Wales south coast. Half of its population of 400 live in the Aboriginal community of Wreck Bay. This is where Joyce and Albanese enter the frame.
The inclusion of Wreck Bay in the compensation scheme was neither incidental nor accidental, as the Prime Minister was keen to point out on the day of the announcement: “A special shout-out to those I know down there at Wreck Bay, which we’re able to get a message to you today, as well.”
Barnaby Joyce is currently responsible for Wreck Bay as the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. Anthony Albanese was one of his predecessors in the Rudd–Gillard governments. Joyce’s department’s website says that it has “overall responsibility for the provision of local and state government-type services” to the community of Jervis Bay, including Wreck Bay. While most of those services are subcontracted to other levels of government (local, state and, in the case of child protection, the ACT) the minister and his department remain accountable for outsourced outcomes.
At last count there were more than 200 Aboriginal children from Canberra and Jervis Bay subject to “out of home” care orders. How many Jervis Bay residents, past or present, will claim compensation for wrongful removal remains to be seen but the Prime Minister’s words and the stated intent of the government’s redress scheme clearly envisage their potential eligibility, as does the related “facilitation” legislation recently enacted (this legislation is intended to preclude compensation payments being taken into account for pension and benefit means-testing purposes).
Such is the indiscriminate scope of the government’s plan that contemporary child protection procedures on the New South Wales south coast are deemed comparable to last century’s assimilation policies in the Northern Territory for compensation purposes.
Establishing wrongful and involuntary separation
The government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency website defines eligibility as: “removed from their family by government bodies (including the police), churches/missions and/or welfare bodies, and in circumstances where their indigeneity was a factor in the removal”. Aside from the ambiguous reference to “indigeneity” there is no confirmation as to whether the scheme will depend upon removal being voluntary or involuntary, warranted or not. The “facilitation” legislation uses the term “forced removal” without definition.
To be eligible for compensation, a claimant, whether from the Northern Territory, ACT or Jervis Bay, may need to show not just that they were removed but also that removal was wrongful, that is, without cause and without consent. Herein lies the nub of the problem, not least when dealing with events going back decades, often ambiguous in circumstance, poorly documented (if records still exist), and without surviving witnesses. Previous test cases in the courts have revealed that claimants are often mistaken or misinformed as to their early childhood. A recent New South Wales official report likened the process to “looking through the grubby windows of a ransacked museum”.
It may be that for such reasons, two years after its original announcement, Victoria is still to articulate the nature of its promised scheme. Queensland and Western Australia continue to resist making similar commitments.
The question of parental consent is one of the most vexed in establishing wrongful removal. For this reason the original 1997 Bringing Them Home report recommended that compensation be payable not only where separation was obviously involuntary (and unwarranted) but also wherever apparent parental consent was subject to “compulsion, duress or undue influence”. Thus sending a child away to boarding school or into foster care, or even signing a premeditated adoption instrument in the maternity ward (as was the norm), could still constitute wrongful separation if tainted by “duress or undue influence”. For example, there was a time (before the contraceptive pill, legalised abortion and single-parent benefits) when social and financial pressures “forced” unwed mothers, black and white, to surrender their children for adoption. Indeed most Aboriginal adoptees now class themselves as “stolen”, as do many who were informally fostered by relatives, for example as a result of family breakdown.
Elaborate kinship strictures in traditional communities could place unique pressures on single mothers of mixed-race children, especially girls (59 per cent of those identifying as stolen are female). Indeed, notwithstanding the popular image of random, spontaneous kidnappings, most individual cases, including the cameos on the Healing Foundation’s website, reveal that removals from two-parent families were rare, except in circumstances of alleged neglect.
Determining wrongful removal is further complicated in certain cases, particularly in metropolitan settings, where it can be difficult to authenticate Aboriginal ancestry (“indigeneity”). Identity fraud and “race shifting” also become risks when financial incentives are in play.
Census counts have witnessed extraordinarily large increases in the indigenous population since 2000, for example over 40 per cent in the decade to 2016, primarily in eastern seaboard cities. This otherwise inexplicable phenomenon has been ascribed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to what it calls “a changing propensity to identify”. This is the cohort John Newfong famously characterised as “nouveau noir”, distinguished by higher rates of educational attainment, employment, income, home ownership and life expectancy (six to seven years longer than in remote areas).
State governments encountered such challenges when they established Stolen Generations compensation schemes. Tasmania rejected one-third of its compensation claimants as ineligible, 40 per cent of whom were found to be non-Aboriginal. South Australia rejected a quarter of all applicants for its scheme. In New South Wales it has been one in three.
How many were “stolen”?
The incidence of “stolen” children is much contested. Bringing Them Home speculated that “at least 100,000” people had been removed from their families as children, arguing that this amounted to “genocide”.
This estimate of one in three was based solely on a prior, unrelated survey of 320 adults in Bourke that classified single-parent households and parental hospitalisation or imprisonment as cases of childhood separation. After carefully re-examining this and other numerical indicators cited in Bringing Them Home, the federal government, in a controversial March 2000 submission to a Senate References Committee Inquiry into the Stolen Generations, concluded:
The proportion of separated Aboriginal children was no more than 10 per cent, including those who were not forcibly separated and those who were forcibly separated for good reason, as occurs under child welfare policies today. There was never a “generation” of stolen children. The category of persons commonly categorised as separated (or “stolen”) combines and confuses those separated from their families with and without consent, and with and without good reason.
Attempts to establish the numbers affected have since relied upon the ABS’s National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) social or health surveys conducted every three or four years. Each such survey has included a particular set of questions concerning the Stolen Generations. Responses are separately tabulated for people born before the early 1970s in order to capture the relevant cohort.
The results over the years for those answering “Yes” to having been “removed” have varied wildly: 9.9 per cent in 2002; 9.3 per cent in 2004-05; 11.1 per cent in 2008; 16.4 per cent in 2012-13; and 13.5 per cent in 2014-15. The most recent survey in 2018-19 produced a “Yes” response of 21.4 per cent. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) recently extrapolated from this record response to estimate that 33,600 people from the surviving cohort born before 1970 were removed as children.
Seeking to reconcile the 2018-19 reported removal rate of 21.4 per cent with the figure of 13.5 per cent four years previously, AIHW simply speculated that “ATSI people who were removed as children are becoming more willing to report their experiences”. Is it not curious that such a phenomenon would suddenly emerge a decade after the Apology and two decades after the Bringing Them Home report?
More to the point, the proportion of survey respondents claiming to have been “stolen” is dramatically at odds with the numbers who have actually sought and qualified for compensation under reparations schemes established by state governments. For example, based on the 2018-19 survey AIHW calculated that in South Australia 2100 adults aged forty-six and over, representing 24.7 per cent of indigenous people born before 1970, had been removed. That state’s compensation scheme, established in 2015, was open to people born before the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 (a larger cohort than the 1970 cut-off applied by AIHW) who were “removed from their families by the direct or indirect actions of the state and its agents”. This scheme ultimately resulted in just 343 applicants qualifying for compensation, compared to the survey-based estimate of 2100, that is, a removal rate of about 4 per cent, not 24.7 per cent.
Similarly, although the overall numbers are small, the equivalent of 400 Tasmanians, representing 5.6 per cent of those aged forty-six and over, identified themselves as “stolen” whereas the number who eventually qualified for compensation under that state’s scheme was eighty-four, representing 1.2 per cent of the cohort.
The New South Wales experience is even more telling than South Australia or Tasmania both because of the numbers involved and because its $75,000 per person compensation scheme, established in 2017 and due to conclude in 2022, is open to anyone taken into the custodianship of the former Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards up until 1969, regardless of circumstance, whether voluntarily, justifiably or not. All that is required is matching ID. After three years New South Wales had compensated 720 individuals and expects another 400 to 500 before the scheme closes later this year. This prospective total of 1220 compares with the AIHW estimate of 11,400 New South Wales residents (aged over forty-six) having been “stolen”—2.1 per cent of the age cohort, not 19.5.
Eligibility for the New South Wales scheme precluded children removed via court order under mainstream child protection legislation, unlike Canberra’s plan, which contemplates revisiting such decisions. The “independent assessor” who led the New South Wales scheme happened also to be a director of the Healing Foundation, indigenous former Senator Aden Ridgeway.
South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales are the only jurisdictions to have financially compensated survivors of the pre-1970s era of child separation. In total these states account for 41 per cent of the 33,600 people aged forty-six and over calculated by AIHW as having been “stolen”. Their combined estimated removal rate was 18.8 per cent, whereas the actual proportion, as measured by the number of successful compensation claimants, is 2.2 per cent. (In comparison, the contemporary rate of indigenous children in compulsory “out of home” care is 6.0 per cent, about ten times the overall national rate.)
How to reconcile such a massive difference between survey respondents and verified claimants? Victim reluctance is unlikely to have been the reason, given the celebrated Apology, the long-standing campaign for such recompense, and the considerable financial incentives on offer ($50,000 to $75,000). In truth, the answer most likely lies in the odd way in which the ABS Stolen Generations survey question is framed, being the same formulation used since the first ATSIC-inspired National ATSI Social Survey in 2002: “Have you been removed from your family by welfare or the government or taken away to a mission?”
This question, which requires a “Yes” or “No” answer, conflates two entirely different concepts: “removed from your family” and “taken away to a mission”. Child removal is clearly different from the “protection” era policy of “shepherding” entire families and groups onto missions and reserves (most of which survive today as self-managed communities). It is not surprising that so many people who lived through that era would say “Yes” to such a wide-ranging question, and that so few of them have since applied for financial compensation for wrongful parental separation.
The scope of the question may have also caused respondents to apply a wider, more subjective notion of “removal” than that of arbitrary separation by authorities. Informal fostering (by grandparents, aunts, extended family) is commonplace in Aboriginal communities, especially given the high proportion of young single mothers. Survey respondents may also have been thinking of other forms of parental separation such as family breakdown, adoption, being orphaned, temporary child protection orders, parental imprisonment, boarding school or juvenile justice.
Some may also have simply been making a political statement, out of a desire to associate with an emblematic cause. This could explain why younger respondents born since 1970 have claimed equivalent rates of childhood separation to their elders, for example in the 2014-15 ATSI Social Survey.
Nonetheless, for whatever reason, Canberra’s new compensation scheme seems to assume that about 25 per cent of the current Northern Territory and ACT Aboriginal population born in the territories during the relevant periods will be eligible for compensation for wrongful removal. Should the proportion of successful claimants turn out to be nearer the 2.2 per cent average in New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia, however, the Commonwealth’s scheme could, ironically, prove to be the final reality check to the Stolen Generations narrative.
The misguided events of last century represent perhaps thousands of individual human tragedies, but twisting the facts to portray it as commonplace—or appropriating the legacy to claim an association that is unwarranted—devalues and disrespects the experience of the genuine victims.
Effects of removal
Last year’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysis of the 2018-19 National ATSI Health Survey sought to identify the longer-term effect of removal on the individuals concerned. This work was commissioned by an advocacy group, the Healing Foundation, which is now engaged in designing Canberra’s planned compensation scheme.
Based on Stolen Generations responses to the 2018-19 survey, AIHW concluded that “Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 and over face poorer outcomes across a range of health and social measures when compared to other Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians of the same age”. They were found, for example, to be less likely to own a house and more likely to be unemployed (but also more likely to have completed Year 12 schooling).
The implied causal connection (post hoc ergo propter hoc) between childhood removal and adult life outcomes assumes that those outcomes are the result of removal itself and are unrelated to the background circumstances that may have given rise to removal, such as abuse or neglect. The findings also rest on an implicit assumption that “removal” was the result of external intervention, as opposed to separation resulting from disruptive family events, informal fostering, community dysfunction and similar experiences which can impact on later life.
That aside, the AIHW “analysis” is more fundamentally flawed by the fact that, as a result of the muddled survey instrument, the affected cohort comprises not just individuals “removed from family” but anyone “taken away to a mission”. As suggested by the results of the various state compensation schemes, as many as eight out of nine people who answered “Yes” to the Stolen Generations survey question have not sought or qualified for compensation as “stolen”.
Thus the fact that “Yes” respondents exhibit certain distinguishing characteristics (negative and positive) could in fact be the legacy of the institutional experience of “mission” and reserve life. The last “mission manager” in New South Wales, for example, was not removed (from Toomelah) until 1976.
Stolen Generations advocates argue that the children of survivors of the Stolen Generations also experience particular disadvantage (“intergenerational trauma”). In order to quantify the number of such survivors, the 2018-19 survey used the standard question: “Have any of your relatives been removed from their family by welfare or the government or taken away to a mission?”
On the basis of the “Yes” responses the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare calculated that 142,200 people, representing 35.7 per cent of adults aged over eighteen, had “relatives” who had experienced removal. This data is quite meaningless. The question itself is corrupted by conflating individual removal and group relocation to missions and reserves. The terms “mission” and “reserve”, whether run by churches or government, are today used interchangeably in indigenous conversation. Given the widespread “shepherding” of indigenous people to such places during the pre-1970s “protection” era, it is hardly surprising that as many as one in three of today’s adults claim such a linkage via previous generations, if not directly.
For example, every Queenslander “related” to a Palm Island or Cherbourg resident, past or present, would be fully entitled to answer “Yes” to such a question, thus identifying as a Stolen Generations “descendant”. As could descendants of descendants of descendants. The same applies nationally to several hundred other “reserves” and “missions” to which people were “removed” last century. There are more than sixty in New South Wales alone.
Beyond that, however, responses to the question are further compromised by the scatter-gun definition of “relative” used in the survey. The follow-up survey questions asked: “Are you able to tell me which of your relatives have been removed or taken away from their family (by welfare or the government or taken away to a mission)?” The interviewer is then instructed to “probe which response categories if required”, those categories being not just parents and siblings but also “great/grandparents, cousins, aunties and/or uncles, nieces and/or nephews”.
It would be remarkable if someone (who may also be misinformed as to their own childhood experience) could be relied upon to report the childhood experience of a parent or great/grandparent up to a century ago. And in contemporary indigenous parlance the terms “aunty” and “uncle” are applied casually to almost any older acquaintance, as is “cousin” to any peer, whether or not a family relation.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare cross-tabulated these “Yes” responses with the respondents’ answers to questions about their health and lifestyle, resulting in estimates of comparative disadvantage. For example, that “descendants” were (puzzlingly) twice as likely as other indigenous people to have felt discriminated against or to have been a victim of threatened or actual physical violence in the past twelve months.
Deriving estimates of so-called inter-generational disadvantage from a fundamentally compromised data source (as to who is a “descendant”) is methodologically flawed to the point of being specious, yet it is the basis of the proposed $7000 “healing assistance” to some 12,000 individuals in the Northern Territory and ACT.
Seeing its role as “truth telling”, the Bringing Them Home inquiry elected not to probe or query witness testimony (or to seek the evidence of those previously involved in administering the subject policy). And, because of the evidentiary challenges facing claimants, Bringing Them Home eventually recommended that, for the purpose of compensation, the onus of proof be reversed, so that those responsible for removing a child would have to demonstrate that separation was either necessary (abuse or neglect) or genuinely voluntary (without duress or undue influence).
The landmark Gunner and Cubillo test case in the Federal Court in the Northern Territory (involving a baby left to die on an anthill) and the equivalent Joy Williams case in New South Wales each failed because the claimants were found to be unaware of the full circumstances of their removal. There are things a mother can be loath to share with her children.
The South Australian and Tasmanian reparation schemes found that a significant proportion of their claimants were similarly mistaken: “some separations were purely private matters … without any government involvement”. Family folklore isn’t always reliable.
New South Wales avoided such awkward individual eligibility assessments by automatically compensating every child who had formally come into the custodianship of the state’s Aborigines Protection or Welfare Boards (1909 to 1969), regardless of circumstance.
Reflecting the challenge of reliably reconstructing past events and establishing “wrongful” removal, some advocates, such as Victoria’s Aboriginal Legal Service, have argued that the circumstances of individual removal are irrelevant: “The fundamental issue is that once in institutional care these children suffered cultural loss.”
Changing demographics: the end of ancestry-based programs?
The same could be said of contemporary separations if the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle has not been observed. This policy requires that Aboriginal children should be fostered only with Aboriginal carers. It has been criticised for treating Aboriginal children as cultural artefacts. The policy is more directly challenged, however, by dramatic changes in Aboriginal family composition since its adoption in the 1980s.
Single parents account for about one-third of Aboriginal families (about three times the non-Aboriginal rate). According to the 2016 census at least three-quarters of Aboriginal couples (including almost nine out of ten in non-remote areas) now include a non-Aboriginal partner.
This means that most Aboriginal children today have a non-Aboriginal parent and non-Aboriginal grandparents and cousins. This exposes the inherent tension between the individual rights of the child and indigenous collective rights as embodied in the Child Placement Principle, a conflict that bedevils and sometimes compromises the work of today’s child protection authorities.
Along with changing patterns of self-identification in non-remote areas, this shift in family composition has numerous policy implications, including for design of the Voice and for established indigenous funding models. For example, the recent Calma–Langton report on the Voice (Indigenous Voice Co-design Process Final Report) eschewed a model based on direct election (“one person, one vote”), instead recommending an opaque and convoluted “bottom-up” local and regional structure, noting that otherwise: “If there is consistent low voter turnout, then this could affect the legitimacy and authority of the National Voice.” As a possible alternative organising principle, “First Nations” also notably failed to appeal to the co-design committee.
Eschewing direct election was prudent, given the results of previous indigenous elections. ATSIC never achieved more than 24 per cent voter turnout. Victoria’s more recent Treaty Assembly election resulted in a devastating 7 per cent participation rate, exposing the extent of the disconnect between treaty advocates and grassroots priorities.
Compiling and authenticating a direct election roll for the Voice would be almost impossible given the contemporary dynamics of the indigenous population, as acknowledged in the Calma–Langton report: “eligibility to vote, particularly with regard to confirming indigeneity … has historically been divisive in some communities”.
While 3.3 per cent of today’s Australian population identify as indigenous, among school-age children the proportion is 6 per cent and among the newly born it is 7.5 per cent. By the time this emerging generation become grandparents the overall indigenous component of the population could, as a result of continuing inter-marriage and increasing propensity to identify as indigenous (Newfong’s “nouveaux noir”), exceed 10 per cent. How prudent and practical would it be to “constitutionalise” such a rapidly evolving segment of the population?
These changing demographics also represent a threat to the funding base of existing organisations catering to the less disadvantaged urban diaspora. It is now fifty years since the first Aboriginal medical and legal services were established in Redfern, at a time when the American “Black Power” phenomenon was surfacing here.
Such urban-based interests are influential affiliates of the Coalition of Peaks to which Canberra has ceded leadership of the Closing the Gap agenda. (What need for the Voice as well?) The Coalition of Peaks is a curiously eclectic, unincorporated grouping of fifteen so-called national bodies (including the Healing Foundation) and fifty state/territory-based organisations, heavily dominated by the health sector, which accounts for eight of the fifteen national affiliates. Training, employment, business and housing interests comprise just half a dozen of the total sixty-five members. There is also a strong imbalance between jurisdictions: South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales account for thirty-five of the fifty state/territory-based members and Western Australia and Queensland just five.
The Coalition of Peaks’ pivotal role in Closing the Gap constitutes a classic case of “provider capture” whereby the interests of the service provider are presumed to equate with those of the client. These providers claim to be representative by virtue of being “community controlled”, which is often just a polite fiction (see postscript below concerning the Healing Foundation). As most insiders are aware, an all-too-common pattern is that of control by an individual family or faction, often resulting in organisational instability, nepotistic staffing practices, and selective, second-rate service provision. This pattern accounts for much of the inefficiency and ineffectiveness within the sector.
The necessary shift from existing, ancestry-based to genuinely needs-based funding will face continuing resistance from established urban players. In the meantime, the increasing focus on “remote” communities is code for such a politically sensitive transition. Even the Calma–Langton model for the Voice is explicitly weighted in favour of remote residents (although the inordinate influence of metropolitan players is still evident in the ACT’s being apportioned the same number of seats as Victoria despite Victoria’s indigenous population being eight times that of the ACT).
The devil’s advocate
Against this background the Commonwealth’s reparations scheme will have to be carefully designed. Canberra cannot afford another NDIS-type financial and administrative mess. Nor can it risk raising expectations it cannot satisfy. A compassionate but transparent and robust process will be essential.
The objective criteria for establishing Aboriginality (demonstrable descent and community recognition) will be hard to apply in some cases. Will historical (for example, pre-1970s) and contemporary claims be assessed in the same way? Will apparent parental consent be open to question or simply deemed irrelevant? How will “wrongful” removal be assessed, or will it be assumed? Who will bear the burden of proof, the claimant or the respondent? Which agency of government will be the respondent? Wyatt’s officials?
This goes to the issue of child separations facilitated or effected by third parties such as churches, charities and other NGOs. Even if the responsible entity still exists it may be reluctant to risk the opprobrium (and cost) of contesting historical claims, especially if someone else will be paying the compensation.
Ultimately it will fall to government, as defender of the public purse ($378 million in this case), to test and verify these and other unsupported, uncertain or ambiguous claims. Simple Bringing Them Home-style “truth telling” won’t suffice. The devil’s advocate role is unavoidable—and may be an uncomfortable fit if not a conflict of interest for the Indigenous Australians portfolio and for its minister, who has described his own mother as “a survivor of the stolen generations”.
It remains to be seen what assessment mechanism the minister establishes to reconcile the government’s fiduciary duty to the public purse with its stated aim that the process be “survivor-focused and trauma-informed” (and knowing that the rort-sensitive Auditor-General will be watching from the sidelines).
And what of those other ministers under whose stewardship claimants were removed? Of course, they were rarely, if ever, directly involved. But they could still play a role in the personal apologies contemplated by the government, could they not? Anthony? Barnaby? Paul?
Postscript: The Healing Foundation
The ATSI Healing Foundation Limited is a not-for-profit unlisted public company. Located in Canberra (around the corner from the Prime Minister’s department) it is also registered as a tax-deductible “health promotion” charity. It describes itself as “providing a platform to amplify the voices and lived experience of Stolen Generation survivors and their families” whereas its charities registration category is as “An institution whose principal activity is to promote the prevention or control of diseases in human beings”.
The Foundation has a symbiotic relationship with its neighbourly funding source. The Prime Minister’s portfolio funded the Foundation to contract the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to undertake the Stolen Generations cohort analyses of the ABS’s ATSI Health and Social Surveys. The Foundation’s CEO featured at the Prime Minister’s August 5 press conference announcing Canberra’s compensation scheme.
The Foundation’s 2021 financial statements show total income of $10.7 million of which 94.8 per cent came from government grants including $8 million from the Prime Minister’s portfolio (National Indigenous Australians Agency). Employing thirty-five staff, it spent $4.5 million on wages, $1.8 million on “programs”, $1.6 million on contractors and consultants, and $0.8 million on travel and accommodation.
A major Foundation program, funded by Canberra, is a series of Resources Kits for Teachers and Students. The kit for Year 7 students recommends four successive “activities” culminating in students “writing a persuasive letter to the Minister for Education calling for the Healing Foundation units to be compulsory in all schools”.
Membership and control of the Foundation are effectively confined to the existing eight directors, most of whom, including the chair, have been on the board for at least eight years. It requires only five of them to constitute a quorum at an AGM. The directors collectively decide on appointment to any board vacancy—it is not possible otherwise to join the organisation or participate in an AGM (unless you remain one of the half-dozen founding members at the time of incorporation in 2009). Being akin to a private club, there is no such thing as an application form for joining this “community controlled” organisation.
Paul Thomas (a pseudonym) was a senior official in the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments