Why National Commissioner for First Nations young people is important

Campaigners have welcomed the Federal Government's announcement of a new Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People.

The Federal Government has announced the establishment of a National Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made the announcement as part of his Closing the Gap address to parliament, on Tuesday, February 13.

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In his speech, Mr Albanese said: “The National Commissioner will be dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights, interests and wellbeing of First Nations children and young people, as well as calling on their strengths, sense of hope, and ideas for change.

“The Commissioner will address the unacceptable rates of out-of-home care. What it all comes down to is strengthening families and keeping children safe.”

Mr Albanese also highlighted the governments work in the area of early education , ensuring a base entitlement of 36 hours a fortnight for First Nations children. In higher education, last year, between January and September, 14,000 Indigenous students enrolled in fee-free TAFE.

The announcement was welcomed by early childhood campaigners, including The Parenthood.

“The introduction of a national commissioner, focusing on evidence-based programs and policies, is a significant milestone towards justice and equity for First Nations children and families,” Georgie Dent, CEO of The Parenthood said. “It is a role that First Nations communities and advocates have long called for and consider a “game-changer” to tackle the over-representation of young people in out-of-home care and youth detention.”

Indigenous children are almost eleven times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. Almost half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children arrive at school developmentally vulnerable, which is twice the national average.

“When properly-funded, Aboriginal community-controlled early childhood services have been highly effective in bridging the gap for First Nations children. This new position underscores the importance of providing tailored, culturally-sensitive support for Indigenous families and communities,” Dent said.

Minderoo Foundation’s Thrive By Five campaign said Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, including Thrive By Five partner SNAICC, had been advocating for this for years.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle said the Commissioner will be a champion for Indigenous children, young people and families and will hold governments to account.

“They will help turn the tide of our children being over-represented in out of home care and youth detention,” Ms Liddle said. “They will be able to investigate and make strong recommendations on issues that affect our children, ensuring their safety and rights are upheld.

“This significant commitment to our children should have bi-partisan support nationally and in all states and territories. Our children deserve this.”

Minderoo Foundation’s Jay Weatherill said while increasing the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in early childhood education is one of the few Closing The Gap targets on track, more improvement was needed. 

Almost half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children arrive at school developmentally vulnerable – twice the national average.

“Where we have seen progress is where governments have forged genuine and equitable partnerships with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to deliver childcare and preschool,” Mr Weatherill said. “Centres run by and for Aboriginal people are having huge success in getting more kids into early learning and supporting their social and cognitive development in a culturally appropriate way.

“As a result they are more likely to start school developmentally on-track. The centres also act as hubs for families to get referrals to health services or other services when they need it.

“But these organisations are chronically underfunded. This must change if we’re to make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are set up to thrive and to shift the dial on other Closing The Gap targets.”

Mr Albanese said ​an interim National Commissioner will be appointed this year. They will undertake consultation with First Nations and other stakeholders on the role and functions of a legislated independent and empowered National Commissioner.

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