MEDIA RELEASE 8 June 2022
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS)

The Minister for Child Protection and Family Services, Anthony Carbines, has introduced the Aboriginal Statement of Recognition Bill today despite not providing VALS with an opportunity to meaningfully engage in the development of the proposed legislation

We have serious concerns about the impact of this Bill, should it pass the Victorian Parliament. We hope that the Parliament will appreciate the need to engage in a proper and fulsome consultation process.

When Minister Carbines was sworn in, VALS wrote to him requesting a meeting and, despite a number of attempts, the Minister has declined to meet with VALS despite having a reform agenda that includes several pieces of legislation that affect the way Victoria’s Child Protection system and Courts would treat Aboriginal children and young people, and their families. It is unclear to us as to why the Minister does not believe our voice is important.

It was beneficial that the Aboriginal Children’s Forum was heavily engaged in the process, and we urge the Minister to maintain his engagement with this mechanism and its important work. We work closely with other ACCOs on a regular basis and place tremendous value in these relationships and the incredible skills and expertise they hold. ACCOs have central tenets of culture, community and connection in common but have different roles whether it be health, education or legal services, which inform their positions and advocacy.

Our problem with this Bill is that the process and decisions made by the Minister have not been appropriate, and what feedback we, as an Aboriginal Legal Service representing families in this space, attempted to provide about the potential negative impacts and missed opportunities of the Bill, but the Department would not engage. In the weeks before the Aboriginal Statement of Recognition Bill was tabled in Parliament, we were allowed to fleetingly view the Bill, in a meeting, but were not afforded the ability to meaningfully engage in the process and were advised that the Bill would not be changed to account for our concerns.

VALS believes that the drafting of the Bill could be improved by properly accounting for United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Bill is limited in its scope because it cannot be used to bring civil action. There are many vague statements in the Bill that are potentially tokenistic, allowing the Government to claim they support Aboriginal Self-Determination without actually doing anything to enable it.

In his inaugural speech to Parliament, Minister Carbines said “I come to this place… to fight for people’s rights. I commit to do so with decency and integrity.” We urge him to deliver on this commitment.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“This year, the Victorian Government launched a reparations scheme for the Stolen Generations, 25 years after the Bringing Them Home Report recommended it. But our children continue to be taken from their families at alarming rates. According to the Wungurilwil Gapgapduir report, Victoria has the highest rate of Aboriginal children in out-of-home-care and the highest rate of Aboriginal children on care and protection orders.”

“It is difficult to understand how a Government that has accepted the harms done by previous governments would push through with law changes that will potentially contribute to a system that is already battling to address its systemic flaws.”

“The Victorian Parliament needs to ensure that the Government engages in a proper consultation process that takes account of differing views in this contested space, in order to deliver the best system for vulnerable children, young people, parents and carers.”