Kevin Rudd, pictured at a school in the East Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala in 2008, has warned of new “stolen generation”. Photo: Glenn Campbell GMC
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has warned of a new type of “stolen generation”, highlighting the growing number of Indigenous children being removed from their families because efforts to tackle disadvantage under the Closing the Gap initiative are flailing.
Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations as prime minister seven years ago in Labor’s first Parliamentary act after its 2007 landslide victory. At an anniversary breakfast in Sydney on Friday, the former Labor leader said he delivered the apology not for a “fleeting feel-good moment” but in an effort to unite the nation in closing the gap of Indigenous disadvantage.
But he said an “explosion” in Indigenous incarceration rates and a 400 per cent increase in the number of children being removed from their home noted in this year’s Closing the Gap report made for “sobering” reading.
“Australia is now facing an Indigenous incarceration epidemic,” Mr Rudd warned.
Indigenous Australians make up 2.3 per cent on the adult population but comprise 27 per cent of the prison population. Worryingly, the number of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in prison has risen 74 per cent since 2000.
“These are alarming developments. Indigenous women in particular are critical to the future strength of Indigenous families and communities,” he said.
The former prime minister also pointed to another “dramatic” and “disturbing” trend – the 400 per cent rise in the number of Indigenous children being removed from their families since 1998. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up 5 per cent of the national child population but one third of all children placed in out-of-home care are Indigenous.
In 2008 5000 Indigenous children were removed from their homes. In 2013 this statistic ballooned to 13,900.
“I worry where this heads over time,” Mr Rudd said.
“An increasing number of Indigenous leaders are beginning to speak with growing urgency of a new, emerging, stolen generation,” the former prime minister added.
But he said the warning was not a criticism of those providing care but about the failure to keep children safe with their own families. The Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary on Indigenous Affairs, Alan Tudge, told reporters the matter was largely a state and not federal issue.
“In terms of child removal policies, they’re very much governed by state and territory governments rather than the federal government,” he said.
“It’s one of those things where if you’ve got strong, stable families with kids going to school, with adults working, then typically other things tend to take care of themselves,” he said in Sydney.
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