Australia pledges $1B to address treatment of Indigenous people

Australia’s government on Thursday pledged the equivalent of $1 billion Cdn to address what is called Indigenous disadvantage, including compensation to thousands of mixed-race children who were taken from their families over decades.

The approximate $350 million to be used to compensate the so-called Stolen Generations by 2026 is the most expensive component of the package aimed at boosting Indigenous living standards in Australia.

The compensation of up to $70,000 in a lump sum plus up to $4,800 for expenses such as psychological counselling will only be available to mixed-race children who had been under direct federal government control in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Jervis Bay Territory.

Most members of the Stolen Generations had been under state government control when they were separated from their Indigenous mothers under decades of assimilation policies that ended as recently as the 1970s.

Recognition of harm caused by removal of children

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the compensation was a recognition of the harm caused by forced removal of children from families.

“This is a long-called-for step recognizing the bond between healing, dignity, and the health and well-being of members of the Stolen Generations, their families and their communities,” Morrison told Parliament.

“To say formally not just that we’re deeply sorry for what happened, but that we will take responsibility for it,” Morrison added.

Pat Turner, the Northern Territory-based Indigenous chief executive officer of the National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organization, welcomed the compensation, which was recommended in 1997 by a government inquiry into the Stolen Generations.

“Many of our people have passed, including my mother, so it’s a sad day for those who have passed, but it’s a good day for those who have survived,” Turner told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Turner’s mother Emma Turner had been taken from her own mother in the 1920s and they didn’t reunite until the 1970s.

“It will never replace growing up with family; you can never replace that,” she said. “I hope this will give some relief to the survivors of the Stolen Generations.”

Indigenous Australians account for three per cent of the population and have poorer health, lower education levels and shorter life expectancies than other ethnic groups. Indigenous adults account for two per cent of the Australian population and 27 per cent of the prison population.

Goal of equality within a generation

A centre-left Labor Party government launched the ambitious Closing the Gap initiative in 2008 aimed at achieving equality for Indigenous Australians in health and life expectancy within a generation.

But Morrison’s conservative government last year scrapped the 12-year-old timetable, declaring the policy had failed.

Morrison said that among the most significant achievements of Australia’s pandemic response were that COVID-19 had been kept out of Outback Indigenous communities and that no Indigenous Australian had died from coronavirus.

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