At least 100 people protested in Sydney’s Hyde Park last Friday with Indigenous group Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR).

Just days before Reconciliation Week, the protest was held to demand the Prime Minister stop forced adoption laws and the removal of Indigenous children from their families.

Despite fierce opposition, the Berejiklian Government passed forced adoption laws through the New South Wales Parliament late last year.

Founder of GMAR Aunty Hazel Collins said she wants to ask Scott Morrison point blank what he will do about the ongoing Stolen Generations and whether he will address the growing number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care.

“The first thing [Scott Morrison] should do is abolish the forced adoption legislation and investigate the Department [of Community Services] and how they actually do work,” Ms Collins said.

“They certainly don’t work to their legislation. They’re meant to work with families and extended family as first response prior to any removal. Normally, the first response is a removal.”

Ms Collins said there are over 17,000 children in out-of-home care currently and that it’s very rare that children are restored to their families.

“Quite often when [Indigenous children] do go into care, the family is ignored and deemed unsuitable and they’re placed with non-Aboriginal families,” Ms Collins said.

“The whole system needs to be shut down.”


Family strangers
For Ms Collins, it’s personal. She has had four grandchildren forcibly removed from home.

“My fourth little grandson was removed at the age of 15 months old. At that removal there were four [Department of Community Services] workers and eight to nine police,” Ms Collins said.

“I consider that excessive force. We didn’t know where my little grandson was for several days.”

Ms Collins said all four of her grandchildren were removed without justification and that workers told her they didn’t have to tell her the reasons for removal.

After her fourth grandchild was removed, she had had enough and started Grandmothers Against Removals in 2014. Now GMAR is represented across Australia and it has become difficult to define member numbers.

Ms Collins didn’t see her youngest grandson until he remembered her and came to her at age three.

“His [older] brother [who was removed at age three] … he was eight when he came to me,” Ms Collins said.

“He was like a stranger, from his perspective. It was very hard. I couldn’t be affectionate because he’d shy away.”

Ms Collins said it took some time to start rebuilding a relationship with her grandson and that her grandchildren feel a lot of resentment toward the family.

“They felt that as a family we didn’t want them,” Ms Collins said.

Fortunately, her two younger grandchildren have been back with their mother for two years now. The other two grandchildren who were removed are now adults.

Ms Collins said she and her family are continuing to heal.

“We are trying to build bridges with them and build a relationship.”


Systemic silencing
Ms Collins said it is often difficult for families to come forward and participate in GMAR as many are still fighting in court for their children.

“They cannot, by the legal system, openly say that they have children in out-of-home care,” Ms Collins said.

“That’s a failure of the system. The system silences our people.”

GMAR advocates for and works with families behind the scenes to help them fight for the return of their children.

Ms Collins said she often receives calls from all over the country from people asking for advice on how to get their children back home.

“A lot of people don’t understand that they have rights. They’re being bullied by departments and quite often they don’t see their babies for quite some time,” Ms Collins said.

“Normally through court it’s eight hours a year. That’s irrational. Nobody can connect to a little one eight hours a year. That’s a working day in anybody’s life.”

Ms Collins said other members of GMAR most definitely have personal stories like hers.

“Everything we’re all saying is the same. It’s like we’re talking about the same family. And we can’t all be wrong,” Ms Collins said.


System overhaul hopes
The reason for the GMAR protest was to call on the Prime Minster and the NSW Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward to have an open, transparent and honest conversation about what is happening within this system and why it doesn’t work.

“We’re Aboriginal and we’re the ones being ignored. Our children are still being taken and they’re not being returned,” Ms Collins said.

“This situation needs to be addressed. The whole system is based on genocide … no matter how they try and sugar coat it. That’s our reality.”

Ms Collins believes Indigenous Australians should have a say in how the system operates in future.

“[The protest] gave us the opportunity to call out Scott Morrison to find out what he intends to do as Prime Minister: whether he’s going to be a Prime Minister that continues to condone genocide or if he once and for all is going to honour Kevin Rudd’s apology and actually do something about this situation,” Ms Collins said.

NIT contacted the Prime Minister’s Office for comment however no response was received by time of publication.

By Hannah Cross