Bill Leak’s cartoon in this morning’s edition of The Australian has attracted predictable outrage from both indigenous organisations and from many other well-meaning and reflexively anti-racist non-indigenous Australians.
The cartoon shows a negligent Aboriginal father who, when asked by a policeman to talk to his delinquent son about personal responsibility, does not even know the boy’s name. Critics claim that this is a crude stereotype that evokes all the vicious prejudices Aborigines once faced in bygone eras.
Yet it is those who believe the carton is an offensive stereotype who are living in a parallel universe — and are overlooking the horrifying realities of indigenous Australia.
Across the nation, more than 14,000 indigenous children currently live in ‘out-of-home’ care, having been removed from their abusive and neglectful parents.
Indigenous children are removed at 10 times the rate of non-indigenous children and are more than eight times more likely to be involved in a proven report of harm or risk of harm than non-indigenous children.
That six per cent of all indigenous children have been removed is even more confronting, given that only around 100,000 of the 750,000 indigenous Australians live in the rural and remote Indigenous communities with the worst chaos and disadvantage.
Leak’s real offence, I suspect, has been to skewer the simplistic answers that have been thrown up in response to the Don Dale youth detention scandal.
We have been told the way forward is for Indigenous parents to step up and take responsibility for their children.
If it was simply a matter of encouraging parents to exercise greater responsibility, why have we done this year ago and stopped an additional 10,000 indigenous kids entering care, compared to the 4000 in care in the year 2000?
The notion is absurd because it massively underplays the dysfunctionality that exists in the families — indigenous and non-indigenous alike — that are involved in the children protection system.
Parental inability to carry out the most basic yet most important parenting duties — hence the chronic malnutrition and other forms of chronic neglect experienced by indigenous children — is the reason so many indigenous children have been removed into care.
This was the real point that Leak was making this morning. Tragically, the cartoon was no stereotype because, alas, the stereotype is true in thousands and thousands of Aboriginal families.
Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and author of The Kinship Conundrum: The Impact of Aboriginal Self-Determination on Indigenous Child Protection
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