Budget reveals yet again that Allan Labor Government pays lip service to Aboriginal self-determination 

Today, the Victorian Government announced an additional four years of base-level funding for VALS’ specialist Balit Ngulu and Baggarrook programs with a commitment for these programs to be made ongoing from the 2027/2028 Financial Year. While VALS welcomes this announcement, the lack of increased resources to accommodate the ever-expanding demand for these services presents a significant challenge. To continue to meet the needs of our community, VALS’ services should be expanded to support all Aboriginal women, children and young people who require culturally safe legal assistance and representation.  

VALS has advocated strongly for the expansion and long-term funding of our two specialist programs, Balit Ngulu, a specialist youth program dedicated to providing legal assistance and representations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, and Baggarrook, an intensive support program for Aboriginal women transitioning from custody that are at high risk of homelessness and family violence. The national crisis of violence against women requires investment in specialist responses including Aboriginal-led solutions. The Allan Government has spoken today to its commitment to truth, treaty and self-determination for First Peoples, as well as its commitment to address the scourge of violence against women, however, this is not reflected in its decision to only continue base-level funding for Baggarrook and Balit Ngulu. These services are an integral part of a holistic response for Aboriginal women and children impacted by family violence.  

The Victorian Government has announced $30.8m over the next three years for a two-year trial of electronic monitoring of up to 50 young people who have not yet been convicted of a crime. Electronic monitoring of people on bail is not a new idea. It has been tried in many places and it has failed, including in Victoria. Electronic monitoring systems have been found to have many of the same harmful impacts of incarceration and they replicate the same racism and discrimination as every other form of policing and incarceration. There is no evidence that this approach works with young people, so they are only setting up young people to fail and end up incarcerated. The government’s investment in electronic monitoring, a punitive approach to a small number of young people, represents a 10-fold investment of what has been committed to Balit Ngulu. If Balit Ngulu funding had been expanded we would have been able to assist many more young people, in a trauma informed, holistic approach. Balit Ngulu has been successfully evaluated twice, we know this program works, and the evaluation spoke to the need of expansion each time as have subsequent independent inquiries. Electronic monitoring does not work, but our Balit Ngulu program continues to show incredibly positive outcomes for the young people we support and we would urge them to ensure Aboriginal children have access to culturally safe legal services in all domains of law.   

Victorian prisons are not safe for Aboriginal people, numerous coronial inquests, alongside the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Yoorrook for Justice Report and numerous other inquiries have found this. Government must invest in diversionary and transitional support programs to ensure no women are left in custody when they could be with their families. Women like Heather Calgaret, whose passing in custody is currently before the Coroner’s Court, deserve to be safe. With greater capacity in our Baggarrook program we can assist more women to safely reintegrate in society and be connected with their community, culture and Country. We will work with the Department of Justice and Community Safety post budget to ensure we can adequately support Aboriginal women transitioning out of custody. 

Premier Allan, in her evidence to the Yoorrook Justice Commission earlier this month, acknowledged how the hangovers of colonisation are far from cured today, and that there is a lot of work to be done to achieve true self-determination for Aboriginal people in Victoria. Premier Allan announced her commitment to Treaty and justice, and VALS calls on Premier Allen to deliver on this commitment by funding the expansion of our services. We look forward to working with the Victorian Government to increase the availability of high-quality and culturally safe legal services for Aboriginal people across Victoria so we can ensure that all Aboriginal people can access the services they need, when and where they want them.  

We call on the Federal Government to work with the Victorian Government to fund VALS so we can adequately address resource constraints and meet the needs of our communities to ensure they are strong now and for generations to come. This is part of their commitments under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children and the Uluru Statement of the Heart and we implore them to put those commitments into action. 

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service: 

“Investing in funding services like Balit Ngulu and Baggarrook is vital in addressing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal women, children and young people in the legal system.” 

“The investment triangle needs to change. Rather than investing the most in carceral responses, The Victorian Government needs to invest in preventative, early intervention and rehabilitation services. When budgets are tight, we should be placing resources where they have the biggest impact on the ground rather than on the front page of a newspaper.” 

“How can the Victorian Government say they are committed to the path towards Treaty and self-determination when they continue to deprive Aboriginal Communities of the resources we need to thrive? While government rhetoric speaks to a commitment to Aboriginal self-determination, actions and numbers speak louder than words.” 

“As we move towards negotiating treaty in Victoria, the government must become treaty ready, this means transferring decision making, authority and resources to ACCOs and the work needs to start now.” 

Quotes Attributable to Negar Panahi, Principal Managing Lawyer of Balit Ngulu: 

“Balit Ngulu provides holistic, trauma-informed and wrap-around supports to our young clients. If we allow this program to falter, if we fail to provide ongoing support, we risk undoing all the progress we’ve made. This will no doubt have incredibly devastating impacts.”  

“Expansion of Balit Ngulu’s service across Victoria is needed to make sure no Aboriginal child or young person misses out on holistic services. Our youth deserve more than just band-aid solutions, they deserve comprehensive support systems that honour their cultural heritage and identity.” 

“Failing to fund the expansion of Balit Ngulu means that we can’t progress further into the family division for young people. If we had the funding to expand into the family division, it would allow for positive intervention at a much earlier stage and therefore reduce the likelihood of a first contact with the criminal legal system.” 

“It is incredibly concerning to see a lack of adequate investment in programs and services like Balit Ngulu that work towards empowering young people to re-engage in positive behaviours, like schooling, employment and connecting with culture, which is a protective factor. Many of the young people Balit Ngulu supports have experienced family violence and homelessness and they need legal assistance.” 

Quotes Attributable to Marie Mitchell, Statewide Community Justice Programs Leader 

“Demand for our Baggarrook program far outweighs our capacity. Aboriginal women in custody are asking us to expand our services so we can support more people, but our hands are tied by our funding constraints. Aboriginal women deserve to access Aboriginal services – it’s important that the government hears this demand and commits to expanding our funding.”  

“Providing Aboriginal women exiting prison with culturally safe reintegration supports is empowering. Our clients fell seen, heard and empowered to make strides in moving back into life in the community. The impact of the program is immeasurable and goes far beyond providing a safe place to live after prison – it builds confidence and skills for reintegration.” 

About VALS’ Balit Ngulu and Baggarrook Programs 

Balit Ngulu, which means ‘Strong Voice’ in Woiwurrung, the traditional language of the Wurundjeri people, has assisted over 70 young Aboriginal people who have come into contact with the criminal legal system since its re-establishment in 2021. Balit Ngulu has achieved great results for our clients and received praise in several courts for the extensive support that the service provides. In an evaluation of Balit Ngulu, several justice sector stakeholders said that Balit Ngulu ensured Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children were better prepared for court, had better follow up, and received high quality, holistic support. When asked about their experience, a client said “it [the court proceedings] would have been really stressful, really hard to cope, I don’t think I could have done it without them.”   

In 2021 Balit Ngulu provided services to young people in Melbourne and Shepparton only, but as of May 2024 we are providing services to young people across various metropolitan regions and the Hume region. Demand for Balit Ngulu is high across the remainder of Victoria, and our ability to assist young people outside of the current service delivery area is limited due to funding constraints. The demand for Balit Ngulu’s service highlights the urgent need for expansion. Balit Ngulu should be expanded so that it can support more of our children in more communities across Victoria. 

Baggarrook is an intensive support program for Aboriginal women transitioning from custody that are at high risk of homelessness that is part of our Community Justice Programs. VALS delivers this program in partnership with Aboriginal Housing Victoria, Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and Corrections Victoria. The Baggarrook program is open to all women and welcomes trans and gender diverse, non-binary, sistergirls, brotherboys, intersex and two spirit queer folk who identify as women.  

In 2023 Baggarrook assisted seven women to transition from prison into the community. Participants of the Baggarrook program typically experience intersecting barriers to accessing safe and stable housing upon release from prison, and the Baggarrook program is essential in helping Aboriginal women get back on their feet while they navigate reintegration into the community after custody. Demand for the Baggarrook program far outweighs its capacity as there are only six places available and a far higher number of women applying to the program. Baggarrook clients have told VALS that the support they receive through the program is invaluable.


273 High St, Preston VIC 3072


1800 064 865

Privacy Policy