6. The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families,
Bringing them home
This issue relates to question 6 of the List of issues to be taken up in connection
with the consideration of the third and fourth reports of Australia
Summary of issue
· The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission conducted an
inquiry into the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Children from their families. The report, Bringing them home, was released
in May 1997.
· The report identified that:
- Forcible removal policies saw the removal of between 1 in 3 and 1 in
10 Indigenous children, in the period 1910 to 1970;
- The effects of such removal were, for most victims, negative,
multiple and profoundly disabling;
- Removal laws were racially discriminatory, and genocidal in intent;
- For many children removed there were breaches of fiduciary duty
and duty of care, as well as criminal actions.
· The report adopted the van Boven principles for reparation for gross
violations of human rights as the basis of recommendations for addressing
the harm caused.
· The report also considered contemporary forms of separation, and
recommended the introduction of national standards and framework
legislation incorporating international human rights standards for the
treatment of Indigenous children.
· The government responded to the report in 1997 with a $43 million package.
· The government has rejected recommendations for compensation and other
forms of reparation.
· In a recent submission, the government rejects further the basis for
reparations and argues that the laws were not genocidal and did not amount
to a gross violation of human rights.
The following section expands on this summary under the following headings:
· The National Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Children from their Families; and
· Government response to the report.
The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Children from their families
6.1 Between 1995 and 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission conducted a major inquiry into the historical practice of forcibly
removing Indigenous children from their families, and the effects of that
6.2 The terms of reference required HREOC to:
· trace the past laws, practices and policies which resulted in the separation of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families by compulsion,
duress or undue influence and the effects of those laws, practices and policies;
· examine the adequacy of and the need for any changes in current laws, practices
and policies relating to services and procedures currently available to those
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were affected by the separation
under compulsion, duress or undue influence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islanders children from their families, including but not limited to current laws,