Torres Strait Islander traditional child rearing Act

The Queensland Government has taken historic, nation-leading steps to recognise Torres Strait Islander traditional child rearing practice in law.

Meriba Omasker Kaziw Kazipa (Torres Strait Islander Traditional Child Rearing Practice) Act 2020 passed and royal assent granted

The Meriba Omasker Kaziw Kazipa (Torres Strait Islander Traditional Child Rearing Practice) Act 2020 was passed in Queensland Parliament and royal assent was granted by the Governor on 14 September 2020.

This ground-breaking Act provides legal recognition of Torres Strait Islander families' continued use of traditional child rearing practice. The Act fulfils a commitment by the Queensland Government to introduce the relevant legislation in the current term of government.

Shared child rearing is a common and enduring Torres Strait Islander cultural practice. Generations of Torres Strait Islander children have been raised in supportive and loving extended family environments.

Legally recognising Torres Strait Islander traditional child rearing practice is a momentous step forward in the Queensland Government’s journey to a reframed relationship with First Nations and acknowledges the strength of Torres Strait Islander culture. This will resolve longstanding issues faced by Torres Strait Islanders whose legal identity does not reflect their cultural identity and lived experience.

The Act gives Torres Strait Islander families a process for making an application for legal recognition. If granted this will result in a permanent transfer of parentage from the biological parents to the cultural parents. Further announcements will be made in 2021 when applications open, and the Act comes into force. 

The process to apply for a cultural order will ensure receiving parents can make parental decisions (for example, education and health) about their child without difficulty and the child will have the same legal rights as other children of the cultural parents, including inheritance rights.

The Act also promotes the right of Torres Strait Islanders to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their kinship ties under the Human Rights Act 2019, while still ensuring the protection of children in their best interests.

The name of the Act incorporates language terms from Torres Strait Islander languages. 'Meriba Omasker' and 'Kaziw Kazipa' together translate to 'for our children's children'.

The legislation is the first of its kind to align Torres Strait Islander lore with Queensland law.

Community consultations were undertaken in 2018, including engaging three Eminent Persons who worked closely with the Queensland Government and Torres Strait Islander communities to inform the development of the Act.

Eminent Persons

Three Eminent Persons were engaged to provide legal, cultural and gender expertise during the complex and culturally sensitive consultations with Queensland’s Torres Strait Islander community.

Ms Ivy Trevallion

Ms Trevallion is the first Torres Strait Islander social worker. Ms Trevallion graduated from The University of Queensland in 1986 and is current Chair of the Kupai Omasker Working Party.

Honourable Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC

Mr Nicholson is the former Chief Justice of the Family Court with extensive knowledge and experience of traditional Torres Strait Islander child rearing practices, including leading the development of the Family Court’s Kupai Omasker program in the 1990s, supporting government consultations in 2011–2012 and acting as advisor to the Kupai Omasker Working Party since 1996.

Mr Charles Passi

Mr Passi is a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory to the Domestic and Family Violence Implementation Council and former Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation (2013–2015).

Community meetings

In November and December 2018, the Queensland Government and Eminent Persons held a series of community meetings, forums with non-government organisations, legal sector representatives, and State and Commonwealth government agencies, as well as closed meetings with individual Torres Strait Islander people and smaller groups to consult on the legal recognition of Torres Strait Islander traditional child rearing practice.

Over 350 Queenslanders participated in more than 30 meetings across the state, including at Thursday Island, Cairns, Bamaga, Townsville, Mackay, Badu Island, Mer Island, Caboolture, Goodna, Brisbane City and Carindale.

Key consultation findings

The following are some of the key findings from the consultation sessions:

  • Cultural lore and protocols dictate that discussion about traditional child rearing practices outside of the family (particularly those directly involved) is 'taboo', prohibited, and regarded as highly inappropriate.
  • All Torres Strait Islander children should be able to obtain a birth certificate that reflects their cultural identity and lived experience.
  • Any process for Torres Strait Islander people to obtain legal recognition should be affordable, accessible and culturally appropriate.

Next steps

The Queensland Government will now move into the implementation phase—creating the structures and processes for Torres Strait Islander families to apply for cultural recognition orders. In 2021, when the Act is proclaimed and comes into force, further public announcements will be made.