Aboriginal Children, Their Welfare and the Voice

Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them.
                        – Uluru Statement from the Heart

Archie Roach singing “They took the children away” must be the most affecting song in Australia. I can imagine that when teachers show this video in class, the kids finish up in tears. As the late Archie’s words go,

Then they took the children away,
Snatched from their mother’s breast
Said this is for the best
Took them away.

Archie wrote the song in 1990, concerning his own removal from his parents at Framlingham Mission in 1959, when he was three. He was taken to the Salvation Army home, Camberwell, by the Children’s Welfare Department and then fostered out. His autobiography Tell Me Why [1] mentions an ex-policeman saying “how he used to take Aboriginal children off missions, ripping them from their mothers’ arms.”

Roach later read his own ward file and in Tell Me Why, he complained of the “harsh and offensive words used to justify taking Gladys, Diana [his sisters] and myself that dark day on Framlingham” (p355). But he gives no further detail, although he republishes other sensitive documents from his file.[2] Unmentioned is that, after 1957 and two years before his removal, the Aborigines Welfare Board no longer had the authority to remove children at all, even on welfare grounds.[3]

The Victorian government in six reports from 1996 to 2003 searched in vain for any past policy for eugenic “stolen” removals, nor did it find any body of persons that fit the bill. At most it found some unauthorised private fosterings and informal adoptions.

Be all that as it may, right now in Australia “The Welfare” is monitoring many hundreds of pregnant Aborigines, especially teenagers. As soon as they give birth, or within their first year of motherhood, the authorities ‘rip the babies out of their mother’s arms’ — to use the classroom meme — to be brought up by third parties (often whites) and mostly never re-united.

You’ve read that removed-baby material correctly. The source is the Family Matters Report 2022, authored by Aboriginal group SNAICC’s National Voice for Our Children – the Australian non-government peak body for Aboriginal children.[4] Family Matters is supported by more than 150 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations. The report was written in conjunction with the Family Matters Campaign, plus Monash University (Vic) and UTS (NSW) contributing and part-funded by Karen Mundine’s Reconciliation Australia. It says (emphasis added),

Over the past few years, the Family Matters campaign has drawn attention to the rising rates of pre-birth notifications and infant removals for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies (see previous Family Matters Reports). This trend has unfortunately continued, as in 2020-21, 21% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed into out-of-home care nationally were under the age of one, and were removed at ten times the rate of non-Indigenous infants.

This is a growing problem that impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in profound ways … Not only does it represent continuity with harmful past policies and approaches – especially the Stolen Generations – the ongoing removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies at, or shortly after, birth by child welfare is a site of pain and distress, where the use of surveillance, control and coercive powers are particularly harrowing. (p17)

The report says (p25) that total removals in 2021 were 4,477. So 21 per cent of that means 940 children under one year were taken from their mothers. They were removed at ten times the rate of non-Aboriginal infants – 47.3 per 1000 compared with 4.5 (p100).[5] Don’t ask how any of this this squares with then-prime minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology of 2008:

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.”


The pain is searing; it screams from the pages [of Bringing Them Home]. The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.These stories cry out to be heard; they cry out for an apology.

The total Aboriginal children in out-of-home care nationally at June 2021 were what the report calls “a staggering 22,297” (p11). This compares with Rudd’s figure of “up to 50,000” removals of Aboriginal children of all ages in the 60 years 1910-70.

It’s not like baby-removals in recent years are anything new. Among the references cited is O’Donnell, M. et al. (2019) ‘Infant removals: The need to address the over-representation of Aboriginal infants and community concerns of another “stolen generation”’. O’Donnell’s paper, of four years back, concluded, “The disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal infant removals needs to be seen as a priority requiring urgent action to prevent further intergenerational trauma.”

The purpose of the Family Matters paper is to demonstrate that current policies for Aboriginal safe motherhood have failed, with no prospect of success in future. Hence it rolls out all the appalling statistical indicators and advocates for an Aboriginal takeover of the child-care system. This would involve vastly increased budgets free of normal fiduciary oversight, and broad autonomy in operations. The report projects that, without policy changes, the number of Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care will rise by another 50 per cent over the coming decade, comprising almost half of all removed kids in care (p13).

How this messaging will play out in the Referendum debate is anyone’s guess. A federal Voice would doubtless endorse the power-shift to Aboriginal child-care groups. But there is no indication how such groups would tackle root causes of the disaster, such as the horrific domestic violence and substance abuse by male Aboriginal partners in remote Australia. These elements rate only one of 134 pages in the Family Matters report. This will be covered in Part 2 of this series, to be published tomorrow.

The report sets a bad precedent for all the “truth-telling” sagas under way in federal and state jurisdictions. The authors fib about “hundreds of thousands of people who were removed from their families” (p45) under Stolen Generations policies. How the handful of small government homes and missions per state coped with such purported hordes is unexplained. The report further goes on to note that “well over one third” of all living adult Aborigines are alleged survivors or descendants of “Stolen Generations” (p45). If so, reparations via treaties are going to be expensive.[6]

Mick Dodson, co-author of Bringing Them Home, claimed 100,000 were “stolen”, and Kevin Rudd arbitrarily shrunk that by more than half. The only estimate based on a count of archived welfare files is historian Keith Windschuttle’s.[7] Nationally, from about 1880 to 1970, he found 8250 Aboriginal children taken into care for all reasons. These numbers break down thus: NSW (2600); WA (2500); NT (1000) and Victoria (700). That’s about 90 a year, including orphans, the destitute, the neglected and those given up voluntarily by parents.

Another example of mischievous parties at work in the report is the following, doubtless from the academics:

There have also been issues raised about human rights abuses within carceral [prison] settings for women who are pregnant, including the use of shackles and restraints during transport to, and while attending, antenatal appointments; the refusal of timely antenatal care resulting in harm to the unborn baby; and the use of shackles and restraints while women are in active labour (Kuhlik & Sufrin 2020). These issues are of deep concern to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.(p102).

The 50-page cited paper, by Lauren Kuhlik and Carolyn Sufrin, is US research on American prisons, and throws in far-left critical-race and woke theory such as

It is essential to acknowledge that people with non-binary gender identities can reproduce in a variety of ways, including biologically [Blah blah, blah]

Their paper’s ‘shackles-during-labour’ references included an anomalous case in The Bronx in 2018 contrary to New York State law and for which the New York (Democrat-run) Police Department paid out $US610,000 to the mother for (shockingly) having kept her handcuffed and restrained during labour in hospital. As at 2020, the US and 30 of its states had banned shackling during labour. It’s unlikely that pregnant teenagers in violent households in Nhulunbuy would go online to the National Library to look up that reference. More likely, this “shackling during labour” meme will be propagatd orally and make them even more scared to access white maternal health teams.[8]

Family Matters, in its drive for the takeover of childcare, says that despite the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, governments have been loath to empower Aboriginal groups, despite the UN treaties Australia has signed that mandate autonomy.

“Justification for this lies in fear of [Aboriginal] challenges to the sovereign Australian state: the prevailing government understanding of self-determination is state-centric, presenting [Aboriginal] Peoples as oppositional to Australian governments (Gooda 2012 p. 104)… As a core right of all peoples, self-determination should be implemented as a legal and policy objective across all aspects of governance.

As expressed by Lowitja O’Donoghue: “Self-determination as a concept is not something which can be tacked onto program design or introduced through piecemeal consultation. It has to be accepted as a policy objective that pervades the relationship of Indigenous peoples to the wider community” (p90).

The report complains that authorities are talking tokenistic “self-determination” while breaching Aboriginal rights through “ongoing settler-colonialism further entrench[ing] settler authority.” (p91). The report also demands transformation of the criminal legal systems “and reorienting family [perinatal] surveillance and punitive approaches in favour of therapeutic, community-led approaches that centre individual and community wellbeing.” (p17).

It says the authorities talk of “delegating” decision-making, when as settler-colonialists, they need to make “a true commitment to transfer power from the state to [Aboriginal] communities”. Delegated power can be revoked at will, making Aboriginal exercise of their rights extremely precarious. Aboriginal bodies “do not have control over the systems and the laws that are delegated to them and face ongoing difficulties in securing funding to run these programs.”.Hence their powers at state and federal levels should include “commissioning processes” using Aboriginal governance structures, instead of having to provide the state with “ongoing justification for management and funding of essential community-led services” based on non-Indigenous regulations, models and evidence (p92). The report makes the case, for example, to exempt Aboriginals from the “activity test” for up to 36 hours of subsidised childcare per fortnight, a test involving “volunteering” for eight hours per fortnight.

It’s hard to square some of the fine rhetoric in the report with the reality it describes on the ground. For example,

Across the country, [Aboriginal] peoples and organisations are demonstrating excellence in supporting families and transforming the lives of our children for the better. Our communities have continued to grow, innovate and thrive despite the ongoing impacts of systemic racism …(p7).

On the other hand, the report puts the national ratio of all Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care at one in every 15.2 kids, which is 10.4 times the rate for non-Aboriginal kids (p5). That 10.4 times rate has worsened steadily from the 7.7 times a decade ago. Victoria and WA have the highest rate of over-representation (22 and 19 times), but every state increased it from 2019-21.

The national Closing The Gap target on Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care shows that instead of progress towards a 45% reduction by 2031, the proportion in care had worsened from 5.42 per cent in 2019 to 5.76 per cent in 2021. Of the states, only NSW and NT showed any progress.

In 2020-21 the 4,477 Aboriginal kids admitted to out-of-home care were a rate of ten times the admission rate of non-Aboriginals (p25). The Victorian admissions were at disaster levels – 3.65% of all Victorian Aboriginal children or nearly one in 25. The report says this at least was better than the Victorian 2019-20 rate of 3.98% (p26-27). As for re-unification with families,

Nationally, just 16.4% of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care were reunified in 2020-2021. Data show that the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care are in long-term care arrangements, with reunification to their families not identified as a case plan goal. (p12).

The proportion of Aboriginal kids in care being placed with Aboriginal family and non-family carers tumbled from 47.9 per cent (2016-17) to only 40.7 per cent (2020-21), the lowest proportion in at least 20 years. More than one in five of the kids were placed with non-Aboriginals that year.

Family Matters claims “deeply distressing parallels to the Stolen Generations”. It says,

The permanent removal of children from their families presents echoes of the Stolen Generations … and raises deep concern that governments will continue to repeat the devastating mistakes of history by severing children’s cultural identity and connections.(p117)

The report adds back a category of removed kids whom federal and state governments and their bureaucracies deleted from the data in 2019. It was the yes-minister trick, re-defining the issues to make the data look less appalling. The category involved is long-term third-party parental responsibility orders (TPPROs), applied when reunification is deemed “inappropriate”. The report scoffs, “However, given that these children have been removed from their families by child protection authorities, SNAICC and the Family Matters Leadership Group disagree with this decision.” (p22) Further, the orders often involve no legal mechanism to ensure ongoing connection to culture. Even where cultural support plans are mandated, there is often minimal compliance.

Another plank in the original Stolen Generations narrative involved white families adopting the “stolen” children from out-of-home care. The 2022 report wants the practice ceased and headlines

An alarming trend towards increased adoption of [Aboriginal] children …The concept of adoption raises strong parallels with the experiences of the Stolen Generations and the resulting intergenerational trauma… Kinship processes play a foundational role in Aboriginal child development, and adoption represents a moment of rupture in these processes, particularly because adoption has not been part of Aboriginal customary culture… (p37).

This essay has dealt mostly with Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care. But how many Aboriginal kids received child protection services of all kinds? As usual, the answer is shocking – 55,300 in 2019-20 or one in six, worsening since 2016-17.[9]

In Australia’s history of government, it’s hard to imagine a more colossal failure than Aboriginal welfare policies of the past 50 years. 

TOMORROW: The Aboriginal Domestic Violence Crisis

Tony Thomas’s new book from Connor Court is Anthem of the Unwoke – Yep! The other lot’s gone bonkers. For a copy ($35 including postage), email tthomas061@gmail.com

[1] Roach, Archie. Tell Me Why: The Story of My Life and My Music. Simon & Schuster Australia. Kindle Edition.

[2] Wikipedia adds a sinister note that he was removed to an “orphanage”, with echoes of post-war British officials lying to children whom they shipped to Australian institutions.

[3] Windschuttle, Keith, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History Vol 3 The Stolen Generations 1881-2008, p560.

[4] SNAICC – Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.

[5] The 2021 and 2020 SNAICC reports both likewise refer to increasing rates of removal of these infants to out-of-home care (2021 p30 and 2020 p88).

[6] Incidentally the Family Matters report is happy to quote Sir Roland’s accusation of white “genocide”, notwithstanding that Sir Ronald walked back from his choice of that word when stood up by ex-Territories Minister Sir Paul Hasluck.

[7] Op cit. p617

[8] Family Matters: “The shameful legacy of colonisation and the Stolen Generations, alongside continuing high rates of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, has led to a fundamental lack of trust in non-Indigenous service providers.” (p42).

[9] Also cited in Johns, Gary, The Burden of Culture, p117

10 thoughts on “Aboriginal Children, Their Welfare and the Voice

  • Brian Boru says:

    “In Australia’s history of government, it’s hard to imagine a more colossal failure than Aboriginal welfare policies of the past 50 years. “.
    And they want more of the same? Surely it’s time for a change?

  • Blair says:

    “Over the past few years, the Family Matters campaign has drawn attention to the rising rates of pre-birth notifications and infant removals for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander babies (see previous Family Matters Reports).
    Yes Torres Strait Islanders are very active in infant removals. The practice of adopting out children to brothers and sisters of the mother-to-be , aunts, uncles, parents in similar clan groups is widespread. amongst the Islanders and has been for centuries.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Yairs, they get monetary assistance under their clan name and again under their anglicised name when they go to school etc. plus it has been known to get another lot of monetary assistance under their adopted name. They know how to work the system for the system allows it to happen.

  • RobyH says:

    In Victoria there is a stolen generations reparations scheme. Any Aboriginal child taken into welfare prior to 1975 will be paid $100,000. Any child adopted with both parents signing their consent and the court accepting the adoption proposal – will be paid $100,000.

    It is estimated there will be 400 applicants costing $40 million. It does matter why they were taken into welfare – just that they were. They could have been near death or beaten or sexually abused and they are still entitled to reparations for being stolen. Every other race misses out (I guess they must be under the Flora and Fauna Act)

    It is NOT an Act of Parliament – it is a scheme created by the Andrew’s government and they refuse – even under FOI – to release the exact wording of the scheme. If it was an Act is would be publicly available. All applicant information and records are naturally confidential.

    The Victorian government, as expected, has gone to extraordinary lengths to create a Stolen Generation that never was.

  • Daffy says:

    So, I guess we are expected to leave Aboriginal new-borns with a young mother (I surmise) incapable of providing for the safety of the child, or unable to maintain her own safety! And this is a problem? The sad fact seems to be that young girls have babies out of the comparative safety and sanctity of mature wedlock, and perhaps against their will! But then, it seems that even that would provide little protection from a culture that seems to prize male diversions over all else.

  • Hugh Jaase says:

    Tell a lie often enough…. I’m sure we all know the premise behind the statement. Let’s tell the truth – it was the Rescued Generation. No one was, as has been proven, ever “stolen”.

    • Stan Yeaman says:

      “here, here!”, if I were an MP. Yes, I once met a rescued aboriginal. He was so grateful for being rescued, or “stolen” in Rudd-speak, to be educated and brought up at an Anglican mission station. He now runs a nice little roadhouse at the old railway station at Marree, SA, on the old narrow gauge route.

  • James McKenzie says:

    A Royal Commission is required to provide a baseline on aboriginal society pre – settlement and why it was detrimental to improve their lot?

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    A bit of levity in all the seriousness of it all. Many years ago we lifted an under age lad out of community to a correctional facility in the big smoke for apparently having under age sex with an under age female. A pretty serious matter lightened by the fact that the aerodrome parking area fence was lined with about twenty underage girls crying their eyes out and wringing their hands for he was apparently a very popular young bloke!

  • Stan Yeaman says:

    Major resource projects are banned or indefinitely delayed for reasons of Aboriginal culture, which can more accurately be described as ignorant superstition. These hold-ups are denying the whole Australian economy cash flows, tax and royalty revenues, employment, and lots more. I am referring to Santos’ Barossa $3.6billion potential gasfield investment offshore NT. it is being blocked because the Tiwi Islanders 100km away claim a cultural spiritual link with the turtles. Secondly, the world’s biggest high grade uranium deposit, Jabiluka, must not be mined because ‘mining will disturb the rock spirits’. In a modern First World country? Is this more of what The Voice will be about? Ridiculous. I most certainly do NOT wish to be considered equal to such beliefs and culture.

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