Summer 2016-17

Family Matters launches inaugural report at Parliament House

Family Matters, a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, peak bodies and academics, launched a report at Canberra’s Parliament House on 9 November. The report states  the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from their families is set to triple in the next two decades.

The group called on the federal government to adopt a new national strategy and a Closing the Gap target, to reverse the growing numbers of Indigenous children in the child protection system.

Indigenous educator and Family Matters ambassador Dr Chris Sarra gave the keynote address.

Dr Sarra against a background of cloudy sky.
Dr Chris Sarra. Photo: courtesy of the Stronger Smarter Institute.

Today we are here to talk about a serious issue. There is a crisis on, and it relates to our children.

We are not doing as well as we should be. But we can do better. And we must do better.

We need to change what we are doing and how we address these things. This is a crisis, and in a crisis it doesn’t serve us to blame one another or point the finger. This is not useful.

We have to find ways to work together—to own the things that we are accountable for in order to deal with the challenges that we are confronted by.

Sometime ago, I delivered a Senate speech in response to the Prime Minister, who asked me: ‘What are three things we can do on the Indigenous policy landscape to make a difference?’

I said to the Prime Minister, ‘We need to acknowledge and embrace the humanity of Aboriginal people, and our capacity to be exceptional.’

And if we acknowledge and embrace our humanity, then we can understand that we do have capacity. We do have humanity. And with that comes our ability to be the best that we can be, and to support our children, to support our families; and support our communities in the ways that they need to [be supported].

We have been around for some forty to fifty thousand years. So we know a little bit about resilience.

What has been missing for the last 200 years is other people’s capacity to embrace our sense of resilience—and our humanity.

That needs to change. And when you can do that, we have a chance, and we can work better together.

The second point I made to the Prime Minister was: ‘Bring us policy approaches that nurture a sense of hope, rather than those that would entrench a sense of despair.’

The third thing was: ‘Do things with us, not to us.’

This is the only way we can make a difference: by bringing us policy approaches that don’t assume we are broken and need fixing; rather, that recognise that we come to this challenge with strengths to offer.

What is more helpful is recognising the strengths that we already bring to these challenges, and building upon those things.

Many of you will know that I have had a very successful career as an educator.

And that probably came to prominence when I was principal at [Queensland’s] Cherbourg State School.

One of the things that helped me to be so successful was this:

I used to pretend that all of the children in that school were my children. My own children. And so, when I talked to teachers about what was happening, I would pretend that I was having a conversation with them about my own child.

When I visited families, I would pretend and imagine. I would say: ‘What if this was my own big sister that I was visiting, to talk about my nephews and nieces? What kind of outcomes would I want for them?’

And when I let myself be guided by that, and took my ego off and hung it on the door, then I realised I had a chance at delivering what was better and more honourable, in terms of education outcomes.

Let me invite you then, to make this challenge personal.

I challenge you to think about it in this way.

What if this was my child? What if this was my family? What if this was my community that we were dealing with?

And if we can make it personal, then the question shifts, profoundly so—from ‘What do we do with these children?’, or ‘What do we do with these families?’, to ‘What would I want done, if these were my children? And my families?’

This is a very simple formula. But let’s not pretend that the work is not hard. Trust me, I know.

We can do this, so let’s get on with it.

A full copy of the report can be located at

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