VALS welcomes commitment to better consultation, despite ongoing concerns with proposed legislation

The Victorian Government has announced it is progressing with child protection legislation despite not consulting Aboriginal legal services.

VALS has concerns regarding the efficacy of the proposed legislation and its ability to actually close the gap, as claimed.

The Children and Health Legislation Amendment (Statement of Recognition, Aboriginal Self-determination and Other Matters) Bill 2023 revives sections of Bills from 2022 and 2021 that failed to pass the previous Parliament. VALS was invited to information sessions only. VALS was not consulted on the previous two Bills, and we were not consulted on the new Bill.

We were, at the last minute, shown a copy of the proposed legislation on a screen and told that the Government would not consider feedback on anything substantive in the Bill.

We appreciate that the Government consulted the Aboriginal Children’s Forum. We have great respect for the organisations in the Forum and their commitment to improving outcomes for Aboriginal children. 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.

As an Aboriginal legal service, that represents Aboriginal families and children in the child protection system, we have a unique experience and expertise. We wanted to contribute this experience and expertise to the proposed legislation, but we have been blocked from doing so on the multiple occasions that the Government has proposed this legislation over several Parliaments.

Premier Daniel Andrews said in December last year that “I want to make sure that we give much greater self-determination and much greater Aboriginal control of the child protection system when it comes to their kids than we’ve ever done. The system is not designed properly.” It is impossible to “properly design” a child protection system for Aboriginal children without involving the Aboriginal legal services who represent them and who have the legal expertise required to understand the impact of legislation on children and parents in practice.

Regarding the latest version of this Bill, we retain concerns that many provisions of the Bill will have no substantive impact. Notably, we do not believe that provisions in the Bill regarding the Aboriginal Child Placement Principal will make any difference from the existing legislation.

VALS recently met with Minister Blandthorn to raise our concerns with the way the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing has managed consultations and are pleased that the Minister committed to putting in place proactive meetings between the Department and VALS so that we can ensure their proposed legislation is well informed and “properly designed.” The Minister also said her door was always open for VALS and we look forward to engaging with the Minister on properly designing the child protection system..

Last year, we recommended to Yoorrook several transformational changes. This included standalone legislation to cover Aboriginal children in contact with the child protection system, and changes to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principal that have not been considered by the Department despite introducing its own changes in this new Bill.   

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS

“I am looking forward to working with the new Minister for Child Protection and Family Services. Our recent meeting was very productive and it is encouraging that the Minster has put a high value on engaging with Aboriginal legal services.”

“VALS does not believe that the proposed legislation will have the impact that has been claimed and we are ready to work with the Minister on reforms that will actually improve outcomes for Aboriginal children.”

 “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. If this is to change the content of the law itself needs to change and not just who exercises it.”


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