Rodney Dillon is a Palawa Elder from Tasmania, the Indigenous Rights Advisor for Amnesty International Australia, member of the Stolen Generations Alliance: Australians for Truth, Justice and Healing, and a former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner (ATSIC) for Tasmania.
To help raise awareness of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from family, Family Matters asked leaders from across the country to share their reflections during the National Week of Action – on what a new government should prioritise, on what a national strategy to solve this issue should look like, and on what future they’re working to help build for our children.
My name is Rodney Dillon, a Palawa man from Tasmania. My great-great grandmother was taken from her mother to be trained in British ways. Her experience as a member of the Stolen Generations is shared by one-in-three children and grandchildren who were stolen from their families in the name of “protection”. Attempts to “wipe out” our cultures have caused intergenerational trauma that is ongoing and severe.
As a young boy, I listened to the talk around our dinner table and sensed the big change in the air that was possible with the Yes vote in the 1967 referendum. However, for more than 50 years since, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have continuously been let down. In so many ways, the injustice gap is widening. And it is our kids who are feeling it the most, including most significantly through over-representation in out-of-home care and the youth justice system.
Since 2015, Amnesty International Australia has run the Community is Everything campaign. This campaign recognises that the experiences of our young people – including over-representation in out-of-home care and the youth justice system – is a by-product of the intergenerational disadvantage experienced by too many of our communities and families.
The reason for this is that too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families are not getting the support they need.
In my lifetime I want to see our young ones living in happy, healthy communities, coming out of school educated and getting good jobs. I want to play a part in putting them on the road to becoming community leaders. This is what motivates me to work for Indigenous rights.
This is why I am proud to support the Family Matters campaign to end over-representation of our children in the child protection system – building a movement and gathering momentum to support a better future for our children.
The first step in building a better future for our kids is for the incoming Federal Government to support solutions that are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and communities. Everywhere I travel around the country I see Indigenous-run programs having great success. Children and young people who experience these programs deepen their sense of identity and gain respect for their Elders, their communities and themselves. Our people have the answers and we want to be part of the solution. The Federal Government must invest in a specific program for our community-controlled organisations and community leaders to develop sustainable long-term initiatives, grounded in culture, to redress the complex and diverse issues our young are experiencing.
Secondly, funding for Indigenous-led programs should prioritise early intervention and prevention programs. We know from our Community is Everything campaign that to stop locking up kids we need to address the reasons why they come into contact with the justice system – issues such as education, access to services and supports, child removal and stable housing. Intervening early to address disadvantage prevents contact with damaging institutions such as the child protection and youth justice systems.
Thirdly, we need targeted interventions to support the most vulnerable children and their families and break the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage and trauma. The incoming Federal Government should support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop targeted programs to support children and young people transitioning from the out of the out-of-home care and youth justice systems. Given the longer-term impact of these damaging systems, we know that investing in children and young people at this point is critical to breaking the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and child removal.
One practical way to achieve this is to support Indigenous-led solutions such as justice reinvestment. Place-based, community-led solutions are the most effective ways to support children and their families to heal and be empowered to fulfil their potential. The establishment of a national justice reinvestment body by the incoming Federal Government to coordinate and support more place-based initiatives is the best way for this to progress. Finally, the federal government must invest in the leadership of our children and young people, and provide the mechanisms for their voice to be heard and incorporated into policy development and reform processes. They are our future. They need to be part of the change to see a brighter, more reconciled and just Australia.
Because of Them, We Must.