Supreme Court Chief Justice Wayne Martin has questioned whether child protection policies which let some Aboriginal children live in appalling conditions are an "overreaction" to the disastrous Stolen Generation era.
Giving the annual ethics lecture at Curtin University last night, Justice Martin suggested such policies could discriminate against Aboriginal children by providing them with lesser standards of care and protection than other children.
WA's most senior judge also urged an investigation into a controversial Northern Territory policy that bans problem drinkers from buying alcohol and requires identification to buy alcohol.
Justice Martin outlined a bleak picture of the over-representation of Aboriginal people in WA's criminal justice system.
He said the problem was rapidly worsening and was even gloomier for juveniles - despite government efforts and the allocation of substantial public resources.
Condemning past policies that separated many Aboriginal children from their families, Justice Martin said society was still reeling from the consequences of official discrimination.
"The question I would like to pose, however, is whether our current policies may be an over- reaction to the Stolen Generation and may provide lesser standards of care and protection to Aboriginal children than those applied to non-Aboriginal children, and thereby discriminate against those children," he said.
"There is no doubt that some Aboriginal children are living in appalling conditions in different parts of Australia with the knowledge and acquiescence of child protection authorities.
Justice Martin cited a case in the Children's Court and showed photographs of conditions in a community near Port Hedland.
"If one were to seek an answer, perhaps one way of approaching the question would be to ask whether it is likely that the State would approve of a child under its care who was not Aboriginal living in the conditions depicted in these photographs," he said.
He said the dilemma that confronted authorities was obvious and recent tragic events had re- inforced the dangers and risks associated with removing children from their parents.
Justice Martin said the answer could lie in providing alternatives that focused on ensuring entire families lived in acceptable conditions, rather than just the child.
Justice Martin said it had to be recognised that some improvements were being made and the vast majority of Aboriginal people were law-abiding citizens who contributed greatly to the nation.
"Lessons can be learnt from the relatively short non-Aboriginal history of this place," he said.
"However, we should not become frozen into inaction by our previous interventions, such as the Stolen Generations."