Victoria’s Indigenous shame

Matthew Bach

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Matthew Bach

14 February 2023

4:00 AM

If you believed the A-Grade spin emanating from the Victorian government’s massive media team, you would be forgiven for thinking that our state is a land of milk and honey for Indigenous folks.

For example, at every opportunity Daniel Andrews trumpets his virtue on issues like Treaty and the Voice to Parliament. As we all seek reconciliation there is a place for symbolism, to be sure. But let’s look for a moment at that pesky detail: actual outcomes on the ground.

Have a guess: which Australian jurisdiction has the worst outcomes for Indigenous children? The Northern Territory, I hear you say. Of course, given such awful reports of grog-fuelled violence.

Well, if that was your guess, you’d be wrong. According to new data from no lesser authority than the Productivity Commission, the worst state or territory in which to be an Indigenous child is Victoria.

In Victoria, no fewer than one in nine Aboriginal babies are removed by the state. They are then placed into a broken care system in which violence, drug abuse, and sexual exploitation are rife. Next stop, youth justice – and don’t even get me started on the hellholes that are Victoria’s youth prisons.

Now, you don’t have to believe me. These are the harrowing findings – again and again – of Victoria’s independent Commission for Children and Young People. As a result, record numbers of vulnerable Indigenous children are dying: 30 in the last three years.

When Indigenous people die in custody there is rightful anger and much community interest. Why should we care any less about the most vulnerable children in our society, who are literally in the care of the state?

Not only is this state of affairs utterly unacceptable, it’s getting worse. Since Labor came to office, eight years ago, the proportion of Indigenous children in care – if you can call it that – has increased by 63 per cent. And there is no plan to bring it down.

One of the reasons for this egregious failure of government policy is the hegemony of key unions in Victoria. The Community and Public Sector Union, a major donor to the Labor Party, want more and more (unionised) child protection workers.

These folks do amazing work, after families have reached a crisis point. But what we actually need is to radically reorient our whole approach, away from the government and towards the community.

Big Government has failed. Instead, we need to empower community organisations to support vulnerable families early. Labor will never do this; it would mean fewer union fees for the CPSU.

It may surprise you to learn that I grew up loving the Labor Party. You see, I was born into care in 1983. At the time Victoria had a fabulous (Labor) Minister for Child Protection, Pauline Toner. I went into foster care, and then into a permanent placement with a wonderful family.

After a year they adopted me, and ever since have loved and supported me just as much – maybe more – as any biological family could. It’s only because the system worked so well, under Labor, that I’ve had a life of such amazing opportunity.

Today it’s a very different story. You wouldn’t want to put your dog in Labor’s care system today, where no one gets a permanent placement; volunteer foster carers are underpaid and leaving in their droves; and kids get dumped in group homes out in the burbs, to smoke drugs, beat each other senseless, and prostitute themselves.

And unlike under previous governments – Labor and Liberal – Daniel Andrews’ Child Protection Ministers form a conga-line of party hacks and non-entities. I’ve now seen off four of them in the last year and a half alone and am on to my fifth.

You’ve got to give it to Daniel Andrews. He’s a very cunning politician. I’m sure his constant virtue signalling on Indigenous issues is clever politics. It must poll well in focus groups.

But it does nothing for vulnerable Indigenous children. They deserve a care system that works, just as much as I did.

Matthew Bach is the Shadow Minister for Child Protection

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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