Good afternoon – I’m Michelle Landry and as the Federal Assistant Minister for Children and Families, it’s wonderful to have this opportunity to speak to you today.
To begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we are all meeting, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.
Today of course, is a very important occasion and I’m pleased to be a part of the launch of SNAICC’s Family Matters Report for 2020.
On behalf of the Morrison Government, I would like to commend SNAICC for their ongoing leadership over the past 40 years in providing an effective voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Out-of-home care is the focus of this year’s Family Matters report, and the message is clear: we urgently need to turn the tide on the over-representation of Indigenous kids in out-of-home care.
The report is emphatic in pointing out that if we are to make progress, we need to empower the voices of Indigenous people.
SNAICC’s convincing argument is that major change – to systems, to policy and to practice – will only be secured when Indigenous leaders, their families and communities, are able to participate, and have control over, decisions that affect their lives, and their people.
And it’s this approach that is built into the new National Closing the Gap Agreement that was announced in July, by the Prime Minister and Minister Ken Wyatt.
Of immense importance was that for the first time, Closing the Gap measures were negotiated directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s themselves.
As you are all aware, this new Agreement requires all parties to work in close partnership with Indigenous Australians in all aspects of policy development, and program and service delivery.
And as the Prime Minister said, this new effort to Close the Gap is built on mutual trust, dignity and respect, with shared responsibility, and shared accountability.
As a result, the gaps we are seeking to close have been defined by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders. And also, for the first time, the National Agreement includes a target to reduce the rate of over-representation of Indigenous kids in out-of-home care.
The goal is to reduce the rate by 45 per cent by the year 2031.
Concerningly, this year’s Family Matters Report points out that this rate has increased in every state and territory over the last 10 years.
Last year in Australia, there were more than 20,000 Indigenous children in out-of-home care, which was about one in every 16 kids. And unfortunately, they are almost ten times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in out-of-home care.
These are, by any measure, extremely distressing figures.
However, I can assure you that securing the safety and wellbeing of Indigenous children is a top priority for the Morrison Government, and we are building real momentum – through Closing the Gap, through discussions with state and territory ministers, and through the development of new policy strategies - that I’m confident will make a positive long-term difference in this space. Community Services Ministers across the nation have strongly endorsed the importance of aligning the new Closing the Gap targets with the next children’s strategy that we are developing together, which will replace the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.
And I’m pleased to advise that Ministers have agreed that addressing the high rates of Indigenous kids in the child protection system will be a major focus under this next strategy.
Ministers have also agreed that co-design with Indigenous communities will underpin the development of the new plan. And we will listen, we will engage, and we will consult extensively as part of this process.
As a founding member of the National Coalition on Child Safety and Wellbeing, SNAICC will remain a valued partner of our Government as we work together to improve outcomes for Indigenous kids and young people.
Recently, the Government was pleased to fund SNAICC to deliver a range of projects under the Fourth Action Plan of the National Framework.
This includes work to strengthen compliance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, which SNAICC has been a longstanding advocate for.
It recognises of course the importance of family, cultural and community connections for the identity and wellbeing of Indigenous children who have contact with the child protection system.
This is important because we need to find ways to strengthen these ties, and to strengthen families, so that children can grow up in safe, healthy, happy homes and are not cut off from their culture. And early intervention and prevention remain absolutely critical to achieving this.
In particular, we know it is important to address underlying factors such as mental health, family violence and substance abuse to reduce the risk of children going into care in the first place.
And I am pleased to note that the Government has provided funding to SNAICC to publish best practice examples of early intervention and prevention initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families that have worked well. Overall, we continue to invest heavily in a range of programs – including providing more than $500 million in funding last year through the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
As Minister Wyatt said, he is leading the development of an Early Childhood Strategy for Indigenous kids that will provide a co-ordinated policy approach – an approach that SNAICC has been calling for over many years.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston, Education Minister Dan Tehan and myself will support him on this important piece of work - in conjunction with ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the forefront of shaping this strategy
So on behalf of the Morrison Government, thank you everyone for participating in today’s event, and for your ongoing dedication to children and their families.
I am very much looking forward to continuing to work with SNAICC in the interests of achieving the goals set out in this year’s Family Matters Report. Thanks again, and all the best.