A Perth lawyer wants a judicial inquiry to establish whether some Aboriginal children were removed from their families illegally between 1937 and the early 1960s.
Moira Rayner says she has uncovered evidence that the removal of quarter-caste Aboriginal children in Western Australia was illegal.
She says it was illegal under the 1937 Native Welfare Act and, on at least two occasions over the next 25 years, the WA government received official advice it was breaking the law.
“The government authorities acknowledged that the removal of many children was unlawful, that placing them for their best interests but without a court order for their education against their parents’ interests was unlawful and that many of the practices which the minister had prohibited were still continuing and, therefore, these children were being illegally removed.”
Ms Rayner says the evidence came to light during research for a book and could have far-reaching legal implications for members of the Stolen Generations.
She says, under the Native Welfare Act, quarter-caste Aboriginals — “quadroons,” as they were known — were not defined as native.
Yet, they were still removed from their families in a government practice which began in the 1890s.
Ms Rayner says at least hundreds of children who would have been defined as quarter-caste were removed over a 26-year period until policies changed in the early 1960s.
“The law was being broken regularly, despite instructions not to, by officers who had been told they didn’t have the power to do so and should act in a particular way, and it was excused on the grounds of their good intentions. Right down to the fact where an administrator in a native institution says, ‘These children have been illegally placed with me’ (and) he’s advised by the Commissioner for Aborigines that the law is only a guideline, ‘just do what you think is best for the child.'”
Ms Rayner says those people affected could petition the WA Supreme Court for a declaration of fact, similar to a judicial inquiry.
“If there are people who are Aboriginal who believed that they have been removed under any of the circumstances that I’ve found, or any parents still alive from that time, (they) could approach the court and ask in their own right for a declaration as to whether or not these facts they believe to be the case were the case, and simply ask for a declaration, that is all.”
Ms Rayner, a respected Perth lawyer, acted as the WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner earlier this year.