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Aboriginal Children's Commissioner to launch inquiry into child removals

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South Australia’s first Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner has been reappointed for a further three years to give her time to launch an inquiry into the Government’s removal of Indigenous children from their families.

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Education Minister John Gardner announced last week that he had extended Commissioner April Lawrie’s term until December 2024 in recognition of her “excellent job in establishing the role over the past three years”.

It comes after the Parliament in September voted through legislative changes which grant Lawrie the powers of a Royal Commission to conduct formal inquiries and to advise government ministers, state authorities and other non-government bodies on matters relating to Aboriginal children.

Lawrie, who heralds from the Mirning and Kokatha peoples from the far west coast, was appointed in 2018 following a request made by Aboriginal organisations.

Gardner said Lawrie was a “vigorous advocate” for South Australian Aboriginal children and young people and had devoted her time to raising awareness of issues across the service system.

“I thank April for all her hard work since her appointment in late 2018 and I’m pleased to see her continue in the role for a further three years,” he said.

Her reappointment comes after the Government handed her $616,000 to move into a stand-alone office, after sharing Commissioner for Children and Young People Helen Connolly’s office since her appointment.

Lawrie told InDaily that once established in her new office in the city, she would launch a “well-considered, measured inquiry” into the Government’s adherence to the Aboriginal child placement principle, which requires authorities to ensure Indigenous children remain in the care of their family or cultural group.

As part of that investigation, Lawrie said she would investigate the rate at which the Child Protection Department removes Aboriginal newborns from their mothers at birthing hospitals and places them into the care of non-Aboriginal carers.

She also wants to investigate how often the department separates Aboriginal siblings when they are removed from their birth parents.

“I’ve always said that given the opportunity with statutory powers, the ability to call an own motion for an inquiry into systemic issues affecting Aboriginal children and young people in the state would be something that I would get on top of straight away in my role,” she told InDaily. 

“I’m really excited because this really signals in a physical sense my independence.

“The fact remains that we have too many Aboriginal children not with their families, so this inquiry that I’m planning to do I have to give real careful consideration to the terms of reference and how I want to approach this.

“But, I’m not backing away from what I’ve said all along, (which) is with reappointment and powers to do an inquiry it will be that very issue of Aboriginal children in non-Aboriginal care.”

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