Former PM Rudd uses ANU speech to urge action on Closing the Gap

13 February 2017

The removal of any Aboriginal child must be a last resort.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has used a landmark speech at ANU to call for a greater commitment to Close the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage in Australia, demonstrating his own commitment with a further personal donation the National Apology Foundation.

Mr Rudd, speaking on the ninth anniversary of his historic apology to Indigenous Australians for policies which led to the Stolen Generation, said national and state governments needed to work more closely together to Close the Gap.

On the eve of the 2017 Closing the Gap report, Mr Rudd urged governments to add new targets to improve Indigenous higher education rates, and to lower the rates of Indigenous incarceration.

But he warned urgent action was also needed to stop the growing number of Indigenous children who were being removed from their families and communities.

"For the last few years, on this anniversary, I have also raised the alarm on the emergence of what some are calling a second stolen generation," Mr Rudd said.

"That is, the growing number of Indigenous children being removed not just from their parents - but removed from their community and removed from their culture.

"And I promised, in the National Apology nine years ago, that that would never happen again."

He said the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle made it clear that authorities needed to consult with a community-based Aboriginal welfare organisation if the removal of a child from its family was unavoidable.

He said the principle was developed 30 years ago, and has been enshrined in legislation across all states and territories, yet the figures show the problem of Indigenous child removal is getting worse.

"The removal of any Aboriginal child must be a last resort," Mr Rudd said.

"If such a removal is necessary, then the child must be placed within the extended family, or if this is not possible, the child may be placed within the Aboriginal community within close proximity to the child's natural family," he said.

He said in 2006, 6,497 Aboriginal children were in out-of-home care nationally. By 2015, that number had grown to 15,432, with 32.9 percent, or 4,955 children, not placed in accordance with the Child Placement Principle.

"That is, no Indigenous organisation was consulted, no extended family carer was found, no community carer was found.

"These kids were taken away."

Mr Rudd said the rights of children and the need for children to be safe must always come first.

"But what I am sure of is that we cannot simply stand back and let the numbers of Indigenous children being removed grow year by year, without other options being tested within the wider Indigenous community," he said. "We do not want another generation of young Aboriginal children unnecessarily separated from their culture.

"We do not want to see the emergence of a second stolen generation, not by design, but by default."

Mr Rudd said all states and territories needed to be held to account.

"Let's see 100 per cent of Indigenous kids placed within their wider family or Indigenous community in accordance with the provisions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle," he said.

"Let's see the number of kids needing to be removed drop for the first time in a decade.

"Let's live up to the promise I made in the Apology that this would never ever happen again."

Mr Rudd also committed an extra $100,000 in a personal donation to the National  Apology Foundation, which he set up to continue the work of reconciliation and closing the gap with indigenous Australians.