APPENDIX 9 - PROGRESS ON COMMONWEALTH INITIATIVES RESPONSE TO THE
BRINGING THEM HOME REPORT
In 1995 the Commonwealth Government commissioned a public inquiry
into the separation of Indigenous children from their families.
The inquiry was conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission (HREOC). HREOC's report, Bringing Them Home,
was released in May 1997.
The Commonwealth Government was responsible for Indigenous child
separation only in the Northern Territory (1911 to 1978).
In all other jurisdictions, Indigenous children were separated from
their families under State legislation - either legislation
designed to 'protect' Indigenous people or general child welfare
This report focuses on the Commonwealth Government's response to
Bringing Them Home.
It does not reflect the responses of the range of parties
substantially responsible for past separation practices, which
include State governments and non-government bodies such as
churches and welfare organisations.
The Commonwealth Government's initial response to the Bringing
Them Home report was announced in December 1997 and included a
package of measures valued at $63m.
over four years to address the report's key conclusion that
'assisting family reunion is the most significant and urgent
need of separated families'.
The Commonwealth's response was specifically targeted to the
report's recommendations which could be addressed within the ambit
of Commonwealth responsibility.
Approximately half of the report's recommendations are either
directed at both Commonwealth and state governments, or primarily
at state governments and non-government organisations such as
In responding to the Bringing Them Home report, the
Commonwealth concentrated on initiatives to assist with family
reunion and to provide health and parenting services for those
affected by past separation practices.
Measures were also introduced to allow families to access their
records and tell their stories, along with expanding culture and
language maintenance programs. These measures were:
$11.3m. to expand Link-Up family tracing and reunion services
$16m. for specialist Indigenous mental health counsellors
$17m. for professional support and training for counsellors
$5.9m. for family support and parenting programs
$2m. for improved access to Commonwealth records, through
$1.6m. for an oral history project for those affected to tell
their stories, through the National Library
$9m. (allocated by the ATSIC Board) for language and culture
The 2001-02 Commonwealth budget included an additional $53.8m. over
a further four years (until June 2006) to continue the Link-Up
family tracing and reunion services, and the counselling and
parenting elements of the Government's original package of
The information in this report is current as at 30 December 2001.
ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER COMMISSION (ATSIC)
Link-Up family reunion services
The Commonwealth committed $11.3m. over four years (1998-99 to
2001-02) to maintain and establish a national network of Link-Up
family reunion services.
In May 2001 the Government announced additional funding of $9.9m.
to continue these programs until 2006.
The actual performance for 2000-01 indicated that there were 12,405
contacts (note that one client may have many contacts recorded) and
124 family reunions.
The number of reunions is not necessarily a reflection of the
number of persons helped.
Some of those assisted may not have sought reunion as their final
result or may not have been able to be reunited with family members
because the person traced may have passed away or the tracing
process may not have been fully completed.
The national network is now established and operating in New South
Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Northern
Territory (Alice Springs and Darwin), and Western Australia.
Partnership arrangements have been developed in relation to
delivery of services to separated children under the umbrella of
the Link-Up service providers.
In most States and Territories, the partnership arrangements
include government departments and agencies that can assist in
tracing through the provision of information, and, in some cases
The purchase and installation of the requisite IT equipment to
enhance the interconnectivity of Link-Up services across Australia
has been an important initiative and is now completed.
Similarly, the development of the Client File Management
Information System (CFMIS) is complete. Installation and training
on CFMIS has been undertaken in all States and the Northern
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies (AIATSIS) provides additional Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander family tracing services through the provision of
information to support family history research.
This service will continue to receive funding until June 2003.
Language and culture maintenance
The ATSIC Board allocated $9m over three years towards language and
culture maintenance in response to recommendations 12(a) and 12(b)
of the Bringing Them Home report.
The Language Access Initiatives Program (LAIP) was developed with
the overall aim of increasing opportunities for research on, and
access to, information on Indigenous languages.
ATSIC, in consultation with those Indigenous people involved in the
provision of Indigenous language services, targeted LAIP funding to
specific areas of need.
ATSIC identified five priority areas for funding: endangered
languages; feasibility studies and strategic planning; archive
development and management; publications and broadcast; and a
limited capital assistance component.
The highest priority was given to endangered language projects.
This was in recognition of the impact of past removal practices on
the use and transmission of Indigenous languages and cultures.
An analysis of 89 projects completed (mostly those funded in
1999-2000 and 2000-01) has provided an interesting snapshot of the
range of projects (mostly at the local community and/or regional
level) being undertaken to revive, strengthen and sustain
Indigenous languages and culture.
12 dictionaries have been produced, including one in three
57 books have been published and 126 resource publications
have been produced
numerous hours of video, and many photos have been digitised
19 projects involved archiving, including the use of digital
methods, some being foundations for future dictionaries
nine projects saw the development of a data base, recording
or material produced for broadcasting
nine projects involved the development of CD, Tape or Video
one project involved language classes for school children.
An important feature of many of the projects has been their
achievement in bringing Indigenous people together in workshops,
camps, conferences and other meetings with the common aim of
strengthening Indigenous language and culture.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND AGEING
The Department of Health and Aged Care received $38.9m. to be spent
over the four year period 1998-99 to 2001-02 as part of
Government's response to the Bringing Them Home report.
$17m. for counsellor education and support, in particular
expansion and strengthening of the network of Indigenous
Emotional and Social Wellbeing Regional Centres
$16m. for Indigenous counsellors, with the locations of the
positions to be determined through existing consultative and
joint planning mechanisms
$5.9m. was provided for further development of Indigenous
parenting and family support programs. Management of this
initiative has been transferred to the Department of Family
and Community Services.
The Department of Health and Ageing (DHA) aims to ensure that the
Bringing Them Home response initiatives are implemented in
partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
and integrated with state and territory government priorities.
The State/Territory Partnership forums under framework agreements
between the State/ Territory Minister for Health, the Chairman of
the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
affiliate agency, and the Commonwealth Minister for Health, are the
key partners in the implementation process.
Emotional and social well being regional training
The primary goal of emotional and social wellbeing regional centres
is to develop capacity through the provision of training and
professional support to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
health and emotional and social wellbeing workforce.
The Commonwealth committed $17m. over four years to provide
enhanced training and support for those working in this area, and
in particular, to expand and strengthen the regional centre
The original 11 regional centres are separately funded through the
National Emotional and Social Well Being Action Plan. Five regional
centres at Brisbane, Cairns, Broome, Perth, and Adelaide
have been funded for expansion. These included projects to
improve information technology, deliver
psychodrama programs, respond to sexuality issues, develop youth
work services, and deliver on a comprehensive and targeted program
of training and staff development.
Funding for these initiatives was due to finish in 2001-02.
Continuation of enhancement funding will be considered in the light
of individual evaluation of each project.
Following consultation, four new regional centres received funding
for necessary preliminary work.
These included projects in central Queensland, western Queensland,
the Goldfields area of Western Australia and south-western New
South Wales (including the Australian Capital Territory). All four
of these projects received establishment funding in 2000-01.
Following a successful establishment phase, three new regional
centres have commenced operations in the ACT, Mt Isa and
Rockhampton in Queensland.
The ACT Regional Centre has filled its manager position and
coordinator positions at Canberra and Narooma.
Other counsellor training and support activities
The department is ensuring that there is adequate support and
ongoing training available for people working in counselling
Counsellor meetings have already been funded in South Australia,
Western Australia and Queensland so that counsellors can discuss
their support and training needs and develop strategies to address
these needs with assistance from the regional training centres.
Similar meetings are planned in other States.
In addition to the funding to Regional Centres, a range of other
projects have been supported which can enable and assist the
healing of those affected by past policies of removal.
These projects have included programs to develop and provide new
training and curriculum, to expand the evidence base and to develop
culturally appropriate approaches to therapy.
The Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee in
'Healing: A Legacy of Generations' suggested that
Commonwealth programs should be based on consultation with
separated children groups and specifically tailored to meet their
The department has become aware through this report and through
project officer feedback of separated children members' need for
healing methods that cannot be addressed through the regional
centre, counsellor or parenting components of the Bringing Them
For example, many Indigenous people feel uncomfortable with
In August 2001 the Department invited applications for more
traditional, culturally appropriate solutions to healing, with
preference given to those possibly developed in collaboration with
Projects which offered meaningful healing such as return to
country, or return to the place or institutions where members were
raised, are also to be favourably considered. Selection of projects
will occur early in 2002.
The department also funded a Healing Summit in Central Australia in
September 2001 to bring separated children members together to be
reunited with their traditional people.
It enabled separated children members to travel to be together as a
group, to undertake healing activities and to provide support to
each other, especially to those members who have not yet returned
to their country.
Specialist Indigenous counsellors
Bringing Them Home counsellors provide counselling to
individuals, families and communities affected by past practices
regarding the forced removal of children from Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander families.
Counsellors respond to the needs of those removed, their children
and those left behind.
The Commonwealth initially committed $16m. over four years for this
initiative. Due to additional demand for positions, funding
originally allocated to counsellor support and training has been
used for the engagement of more counsellors, resulting in a
significantly increased allocation for this component of the
Overall, proposals for 104 positions (including 16 half-time
positions) have been finalised in all States and Territories.
The vast majority of these primary mental health care positions are
located in community controlled health services.
Services have adopted a range of innovative local solutions to
ensure that positions are filled and services are provided.
For example, qualifications range from personal experience of
removal together with community acceptance through to vocational
and tertiary qualifications including highly accredited clinical
Similarly, counsellors may or may not be Aboriginal or Torres
Strait Islander, but tend to work in a team that includes at least
some Indigenous staff.
The strongest linkages are with Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander health services and Link-Up, but most services also have
links with one or more mainstream family services, child protection
and mental health service providers.
Indigenous parenting and family well-being
The Commonwealth originally committed $5.9m. over four years to
enhance Indigenous family support and parenting programs, and
subsequently continued this initiative until 2006.
The impact of past removals of children on Indigenous communities
has had a significant detrimental impact on families in terms of
the loss of the parenting skills learned by being part of a family
unit. In addition, the authority of elders has been eroded and
traditional parenting practices have been undermined.
Programs that seek to redress these losses and restore traditional
parenting knowledge and skills, and emphasise the importance of
family, are essential in ceasing the continuing cycles of violence,
neglect and/or abuse within affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait
The Commonwealth Government is focusing on opportunities for
collaboration with State and Territory governments and the
community controlled sector in the development or expansion of
projects which enhance good practice in Indigenous parenting and
family well being.
This is essential given that child welfare and parent support
services are essentially a State/Territory responsibility.
The Commonwealth's role is primarily to complement existing
activities, develop a national perspective on parenting issues and
facilitate development work that can promote improved service
delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents.
This role is pursued through both the Bringing Them Home
initiative and broader Commonwealth initiatives.
In April 2000, the Minister for Family and Community Services
announced the 'Stronger Families and Communities Strategy' which
also provides funding for a number of projects in Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander communities.
Given this focus, it was agreed to transfer the management of the
Indigenous Parenting and Family Well-Being initiative to the
Department of Family and Community Services to consolidate efforts
in this area.
The Department of Health and Aged Care continues to work in
partnership with the Department of Family and Community Services in
relation to the ongoing development of the Government's parenting
and family well being projects.
The Department of Health and Aged Care has retained responsibility
for projects that primarily have a health focus.
The Department of Family and Community Services has continued
funding for two projects identified by Health and Aged Care.
These are located in Yoorunya Gunya Family Violence Healing Centre
in New South Wales and the Mentor Program for Harm Minimisation in
A further 15 projects have been funded across Australia. Projects
were selected by FACS State and Territory Offices using criteria
from the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, and have
incorporated a set of principles developed by the Indigenous Round
Table on Community Capacity Building held in October 2000.
There has been a greater response to this initiative than it has
had the capacity to accommodate. Where good projects have been
identified and there
is no capacity for funding under the Initiative, the projects have
been referred to the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy.
Further information on these projects can be obtained from the
Department of Family and Community Services.
NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF AUSTRALIA
Access to records
The Commonwealth committed $2m. over four years under its initial
response to the Bringing Them Home report to index the
names of Indigenous people in Commonwealth records to improve
accessibility for those wishing to link up with their families and
Indexing teams have been operating in Canberra, Darwin (where
records relating to the Northern Territory are held), and in
Victoria (where the former colonial and state records dating back
to the 1860s are held).
All indexing is entered on a database that is searched on behalf of
enquirers by Bringing Them Home project staff. To date,
over 282,000 names have been indexed, of which over 236,000 have
been entered and are searchable.
Name entries on the Bringing Them Home name index database
identify records that may be relevant to inquiries.
Access to the index does not ensure access to the records
themselves, which is subject to the access provisions of the
Archives Act 1983 and to the Memoranda of Understanding
(MOUs) developed by the National Archives in consultation with the
Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in 1997 and
Victoria in 2000.
Under the provisions of the Archives Act, the release of records is
restricted where the information may constitute an unreasonable
disclosure of someone's personal affairs.
The main reasons for withholding records from public release are
because they include detailed or sensitive medical information, or
domestic matters such as family relationships, children's court
cases or adoption.
If the reason for seeking access to files is to obtain information
for the purpose of re-establishing family and community links, then
the MOUs operating in the Northern Territory and Victoria allow the
individuals directly concerned, under certain conditions, to access
most records that would normally be withheld from general public
A total of 360 inquiries have been made for information under the
MOUs. Link-Up staff have made the bulk of inquiries on behalf of
Some requests include multiple names for each query. However, some
individuals affected by past separation practices have sent
inquiries directly to the National Archives.
More information on obtaining access to this information is
available through the National Archives of Australia website www.naa.gov.au or
by contacting any office of that National Archives of Australia or
Community consultation regarding access issues has continued in the
Northern Territory and Victoria through the National Archives'
Aboriginal Advisory Groups set up under the MOUs.
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA
Oral History Project
In the initial Bringing Them Home response, the
Commonwealth committed $1.6m. over four years to the National
Library of Australia to record a range of experiences of people
directly involved in the separation of Indigenous children from
their families, including the children themselves, their parents
and other relatives, and those involved in the many aspects of
care, administration and policy related to separation events.
The project will result in the production of a collection of
interviews available to the general public and a major book on this
Three hundred interviews were planned for the full three-year
project, to add to the 31 interviews conducted during the pilot
This target was overtaken, with 309 interviews completed as part of
the three-year Project, by 31 December 2001.
On the advice of the Pilot Project Advisory Committee, the project
aimed to conduct approximately two thirds of the interviews with
Indigenous people directly affected by separation events. Of the
interviews, 218 were with Indigenous people.
A total of 260 transcripts were completed or in progress by 31
December 2001, and all interviews to that date have been preserved.
Interviewing during 2001 took place in all States and Territories,
with the focus being on Western Australia and the Northern
Territory in the latter part of the year.
The book is progressing as planned with a proposed publishing date
of October 2002. The book's main emphasis will be on the
experiences recorded in interviews.
It will also include information about the project itself and
provide some context for the history of Indigenous child
separation. It will include full colour plates, black and white
illustrations and CD insert.
Access to the collection is being, or will be, provided through the
National Bibliographic Database and the Library's catalogue,
inter-Library loans, copies of interviews held in other libraries,
and various publication and exhibition initiatives.
A number of researchers have accessed the collection over the past
two years, either through the Oral History reading room or via
Contact has been established with a wide range of individuals and
institutions in order to disseminate information about the project,
establish relevant networks, facilitate identification of possible
interviewees and interviewers, and establish ways of making
interviews accessible to communities in different regions of
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