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01 June 2023, 14:25
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

I rise to speak to the Children and Health Legislation Amendment (Statement of Recognition, Aboriginal Self-determination and Other Matters) Bill 2023. Legalise Cannabis Victoria will support the bill. This bill expands the role of Aboriginal agencies delivering children and family services to help keep more Aboriginal families together. It does this by embedding Aboriginal self-determination in legislation and supporting better and more equal partnerships with Aboriginal stakeholder groups. Importantly, this bill includes a statement of recognition. This helps address the need to acknowledge the long history of governmental policies that have so negatively impacted generations of First Nations people. It is an important step in reframing and recognition that I hope will be repeated in Victorian legislature across the board.

We know that the child safety system in our country has been undermined by a constant cycle of paternalism and trauma. What we also know is that Aboriginal people are by far the best placed to make decisions that protect the best interests of Aboriginal children. Pleasingly, this bill extends laws to support out-of-home care leavers up to the age of 21. This reform is long overdue and will help ensure that over 10,000 Victorians living in out-of-home care will no longer be forced to leave care on the day they turn 18 and fend for themselves.

We know that kids in foster care are an already vulnerable group. Forcing them to go it alone at 18 has been a huge driver to poorer outcomes within the first 12 months of leaving care, leading to 50 per cent of kids being homeless, in jail or unemployed. It has taken some time, but I would like to acknowledge the work of Fiona Patten in first bringing this issue to the chamber in the last term of government.

Estimates by Deloitte Access Economics suggest that reforms to increase the out-of-home care leaver support age will halve homelessness, reduce hospitalisation by one-third, reduce mental illness by 40 per cent, increase engagement in education, significantly decrease arrests and massively decrease alcohol and drug dependence. We commend the government on this bill and their work to ensure greater self-determination and culturally safe care.

In relation to amendments to this bill brought by the Greens and the minister, we are supportive and note the importance of emphasising the harm for children and cultural connection caused by removing an Aboriginal child from the care of a parent.

This bill is just one step in the work that needs to be done to meet the Closing the Gap national agreement and address decades of trauma and disconnection. We commit to supporting this important work wherever and whenever possible.


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