Award-winning human rights advocate, lawyer and Fulbright Scholar Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts has been appointed as the ACT’s inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People Commissioner.
Ms Turnbull-Roberts is a Bundjalung Widubul-Wiabul woman with lived experience of the impact of the child protection system on First Nations peoples.
In her new role, she will work to protect and promote the rights, interests and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the ACT, both individually and at a systemic level.
She said she wanted to work towards outcomes that would bring First Nations children home, and ensure Country, connection and healing were “paramount” in the process.
“First Nations families and communities have continued to hold the solutions that work for us, by us,” Ms Turnbull-Roberts said.
“Our strength lies in the people that have come before us, our collective struggle and resilient history, our ancestors, knowledge holders, healers and Country – and this will continue for eternity with our young.”
In particular, Ms Turnbull-Roberts is focused on addressing the “urgent” issues around child removal and incarceration rates in the ACT.
“I look forward to working with First Nations families and communities as we strive to end discrimination and ensure the rights of First Nations people are heard,” she said.
“I invite all to come on this journey and work together in creating fundamental change.”
Ms Turnbull-Roberts was an Australian Human Rights Medallist in 2019 and is currently undertaking research as a Fulbright Scholar, aiming to develop new ways of changing the child protection system in Australia and enhance best practice in the lives of First Nations children.
It’s an issue that is close to her heart as a survivor of out-of-home care after being removed from her family when she was 10.
She will start her five-year term as commissioner from 26 February, 2024.
Families and Community Services Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said she was looking forward to working with Ms Turnbull-Roberts to make further change to the ACT’s child, youth and family services system.
“I have no doubt Ms Turnbull-Roberts will be a passionate advocate for Canberra’s First Nations children, young people and families,” she said.
“Her impressive career and achievements to date have been driven by the pursuit of justice and better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”
The independent, statutory role was created as part of the ACT Government’s commitment to fully implement the recommendations from the 2019 Our Booris, Our Way report.
Our Booris, Our Way Implementation Oversight Committee chair Natalie Brown said the team had been “anxiously” waiting for the role to be appointed for the past five years.
“The Our Booris, Our Way Review first recommended that this critical role be established in its final report in 2019 and it has been a long journey to get to this point,” she said.
“Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts is a highly qualified and fiercely committed advocate and stands for real change for our children and young people.
“We are looking forward to welcoming and working with the commissioner to drive the ACT to becoming a jurisdiction where all children can thrive.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People Advocate, Barbara Causon PSM, will remain in her interim role until Ms Turnbull-Roberts takes office.
Ms Causon’s commitment to support Canberra’s First Nations families was recognised by the ACT Government.
“She has led work on which the commissioner can build to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children can live their best lives, connected to their community, culture and Country,” Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne said.