Aboriginal children 'stolen' from Yolngu communities a protection system failure, Mark Guyula says


An Aboriginal politician has made a passionate address to Northern Territory Parliament about a child protection system he says is failing Indigenous children. Member for Nhulunbuy Yingiya Mark Guyula took the unprecedented step of naming nine children he said were recently "stolen" from their Yolngu families in the Northern Territory's north-east Aboriginal communities. The children he was referring were placed in government foster care in Darwin. "I want to say to these children, you are loved," Mr Guyula said. This week Mr Guyula slammed the Northern Territory Government's child protection system. He said laws stating attempts must be made to place Aboriginal children with their extended family and community were being "broken".


By Nadia Daly             


In his brief but passionate address to Parliament, Mr Guyula spoke to the nine children he named directly. "You are not orphans," he said. "There is no such thing as 'orphan' in Yolngu society. There is always another kin that can care for you." He said the children's families had fought for them and did not want them to go.

'Sorry you have been stolen'


"You were taken by force and they never wanted you to go," Mr Guyula said. "Your people, your nation, did not want you to go. Your family, your nation are fighting for you now."


"We are sorry you have been stolen from us."


He apologised to the children for losing hope in the face of a system "that threatens our existence". "We want you back. Never believe you can't come back," he said.


On the anniversary of Kevin Rudd's national apology for the Stolen Generations this week, the former prime minister warned of the potential for a second stolen generation because of the growing numbers of Indigenous children being placed in foster care nationally.


"We do not want to see the emergence of a second stolen generation, not by design, but by default," Mr Rudd said.


Concerns from Children's Commissioner     


The NT Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne this week said she was concerned not enough was being done to find out if Aboriginal children could be safely placed closer to home.


"No-one will argue that the safety of the child is paramount," Ms Gwynne said. "What I am concerned about is the efforts that we're going to prior to that to make a full kinship assessment, to make sure there are no other options available in the community and the community needs to be part of that assessment."


Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said some of the children named by Mr Guyula were in the care of family members, and that the primary concern was for their safety.


"Carers have to go through a really rigorous process of making sure they don't have a criminal record that is relevant, that there's no domestic violence orders in the household, and a range of other checks and balances," she said.


The Government is trying to pre-identify kinship carers in communities in an effort to reduce the time it takes to screen people, which is currently about three months.


"We need to have pre-approved carers in communities so we're not having to scramble to do this at crisis point," Ms Wakefield said.


She said the former Country Liberals government did not do enough to consult communities on child protection matters. "That's something we're very clearly committed to as a government, making sure we're working with and walking alongside Aboriginal communities and listening to what individual communities want," she said.