Protesters gathered outside the Sydney studio where Channel Seven broadcasts its breakfast show Sunrise on March 16.
They were there to express their outrage at comments made by two panellists, neither of whom are Indigenous, on the show on March 13. They, and many on social media, objected when one, who had no experience in child welfare or Indigenous affairs, argued the Stolen Generations were justified because Indigenous children were being abused by their parents and a second Stolen Generation was needed.
About 100 protesters chanted “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land” and “Leave the kids alone” and held up signs saying “Hands off our children” outside the large glass windows where the surrounding foot traffic of Martin Place forms the normal backdrop of the Sunrise set.
But they were not seen on TV as Sunrise showed generic video of Martin Place behind the presenters to hide the protest from its audience.
In the segment that sparked the protest, host Samantha Armytage asked panellists Prue MacSween and Ben Davis, to comment on a report that Assistant Minister for Children, David Gillespie, was calling for white families to be allowed to adopt abused Aboriginal children.
Armytage introduced the segment with the statement: “Post-Stolen Generations there’s been a huge move to leave Aboriginal children where they are, even if they’re being neglected in their own families.
“Currently, they [Aboriginal children] can only be placed with relatives or other Indigenous families, but Children’s Minister, David Gillespie, says relaxing the rules is a better alternative to creating an abandoned or damaged generation.”
Child placement law
That is inaccurate. There is no law preventing white families from fostering or adopting Indigenous children. The kinship and Aboriginal child placement principals in many states and territories recognise the need for Aboriginal children to be kept in communities, or in extended families. But, in practice this principal has fallen far short of its aims.
A parliamentary inquiry into out-of-home care in 2015 heard that it can often come down to the whim of an individual child protection worker, and that the idea of placing a child with a non-Indigenous carer is not often a “last resort”.
Suellyn Tighe from Grandmother’s Against Removals NSW told the inquiry: “We have the Aboriginal placement principle, which states that you must follow this hierarchical system for placement of the children. That is not being adhered to at all — or only in very, very few cases. I do not think that I know anywhere it has been adhered to. I have not met anyone yet. The fact is that that is happening and it is law. The department is continually superseding that. The Department of Family and Community Services supersedes the law of the Aboriginal placement principle with sibling placement policies. That is a departmental policy; it is not legislation.”
Armytage asked the commentators “should white families be allowed to adopt at-risk Aboriginal children?”
First to reply was MacSween, a former TV Week editor turned TV reactionary, who once called for ex-ABC host Yassmin Abdel-Magied to be run over and who claims she “never shies away from saying what others are too scared to say”.
She said: “We can’t have another generation of young Indigenous children being abused in this way and this conspiracy of silence and fabricated PC [politically correct] outlook that it’s better to leave them in this dangerous environment. It’s crazy to even contemplate that people could be arguing against this.”
But, of course, no one is arguing to leave Aboriginal children in abusive environments.
Then she said, rather than leave them in a “dangerous situation” it is better to remove them.
“Don't worry about the people that would cry and handwring and say this would be another Stolen Generation. Just like the first Stolen Generation where a lot of people were taken because it was for their wellbeing ... we need to do it again, perhaps.”
For Indigenous Australians, the Stolen Generations was a dark chapter in Australian history. Between 1905 and 1969, thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their parents and raised in institutions where many were mistreated. The inter-generational trauma of the Stolen Generations is widely acknowledged as a causative factor in the dysfunction of many Aboriginal communities.
Davis agreed with MacSween: “Good on David Gillespie for standing up and saying what a lot of politicians are afraid to say because of the fear of being labelled ‘racist’. I mean, it’s political correct nonsense, it’s gotta go.
“We need to be protecting Aboriginal kids, and putting them back into that culture. What culture are they growing up and seeing? Well, they’re getting abused, they’re getting hurt and they’re getting damaged,” he said, casting Aboriginal families as universally unfit.
Richard Weston, chief executive officer of the Healing Foundation, which helps indigenous communities deal with the inter-generational trauma of forced removal, said: “How do they think Aboriginal children watching that segment might have felt about what they were saying?”
“The fact that three white ‘journalists’ or ‘commentators’ with no experience, knowledge or understanding of the sensitivity and complexity of Indigenous issues feel competent to comment freely on the lives of Aboriginal families … is negligent and racist.”
Black Comedy's Nakkiah Lui accused Sunrise of “bottom-feeding off people’s pain”. “If you're talking about the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, communities and culture, maybe speak to Aboriginal children, families and adults that have been affected,” she wrote on Twitter. “Not white people who have zero knowledge.”
Darumbal journalist Amy McQuire wrote on Indigenousx that the two minute segment was “packed [with] many mistruths”.
“The idea that Aboriginal children are not being placed in white families is a lie,” she said. “The greater lie is that Aboriginal children are not being taken away and are being kept in dangerous situations for fear of a ‘stolen generation’.
“That does not gel with the statistics: Aboriginal children are being taken away at exponential rates and these rates have grown every year since Kevin Rudd gave his apology to the Stolen Generations and promised it would never happen again.
“Claiming that the Stolen Generations were not real, and that the removals were carried out ‘for their own wellbeing’ is overwhelmingly disrespectful to the testimony of so many of our elders, aunties, uncles and grandparents who continue to live with the trauma of forced removals.”
Call to apologise
In a sign that the protests are gaining traction, including being featured on the ABC’s Media Watch, Sunrise ran a segment on March 20 that featured an all-Aboriginal panel discussing child removals. Activists see this as a token gesture, and are continuing to call on Sunrise to make a public apology.
Dylan Voller, whose treatment while in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory sparked a Four Corners report and a royal commission, told the rally: “We are here today to address the constant put down of our people in the mainstream media that our people are not good enough to look after our babies.
“We have had enough. Stop talking about our issues without us.
“Let’s get this clear. Most reported sexual assaults and abuse on children in welfare come from non-indigenous so called responsible adults. So stop trying to put the blame on indigenous people.
“We have already seen the Stolen Generation and the pain and trauma it has brought to our people and now you want to suggest that that sort of thing would be good again!
“We are here in 2018, 10 years since the apology, so why are we facing this problem of having more indigenous kids being taken from community? Why do we have to stand here today hurting and fighting to be heard.
“Sorry means you don’t do it again.”