Closing the Gap on Indigenous Birth Registration

Dinah Norman, Lanceton Norman and Sharnie Norman. Photo: John Bradley

Dinah Norman, Lanceton Norman and Sharnie Norman. Photo: John Bradley

In a major project aimed at closing the gap on Indigenous birth registrations, researchers from Monash University’s Faculty of Law, Monash Indigenous Centre and the Department of Forensic Medicine will investigate the problems Indigenous Australians encounter when trying to access the birth registration systems or obtain a copy of their birth certificate.

The researchers, Dr Paula Gerber and Melissa Castan from the Faculty of Law, Professor Lynette Russell from the Monash Indigenous Centre and Associate Professor Jane Freemantle from the Department of Forensic Medicine aim to quantify the number of unregistered Indigenous births, identify current obstacles for indigenous people trying to register births and understand why Indigenous Australians are experiencing problems accessing birth certificates.

“Without a birth certificate, it is difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to fully participate in society. The issues associated with not being able to justify and prove ones identity creates enormous problems and appears to be prevalent in indigenous communities,” Dr Gerber said.

“A birth certificate is the gateway to the full enjoyment of the rights of citizenship. In particular, you need a birth certificate in order to obtain a passport, get a driver’s license, attain a tax file number and one is also frequently required in order to access social security and open a bank account.”

Preliminary investigations have revealed that a significant number of Indigenous Australians are not registering the births of their children, or if they are registering the birth, they are not obtaining a copy of the birth certificate, which requires the payment of a fee. The result is that they are excluded from fully participating in Australian society.

“The research will be undertaken in urban and remote areas across Australia so we can see if location is a factor in the low number of birth registrations,” Dr Gerber said.

“Births Deaths and Marriages Registry offices are only located in capital cities, so registering a birth or applying for a birth certificate may be difficult for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities.”

The aim of the project is to develop culturally appropriate, evidence-based solutions that will not only positively impact on the lives of indigenous Australians through overcoming existing barriers to the birth registration system, but also assist governments by ensuring that they have accurate population data on which to base future policies and programs.

The project is being undertaken as a collaboration between the researchers from Monash University and seven industry organisations, namely: Plan Australia, Clayton Utz Solicitors, Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission, Hills Community Support Group, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Tangentyere Council in the Northern Territory and the Queensland Department of Communities.

It is being funded through an ARC Linkage grant.