Victoria can lead the way to enable true self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been asking for self-determination for a long time. Self-determination has been a key call in the hundreds of submissions and many, many hours of testimony given to the Yoorrook Justice Commission, as they held inquiries into the criminal legal and child protection systems.

Today, Yoorrook released an interim report calling for the Victorian Government to transfer decision-making power, authority, control and resources to Aboriginal communities in both the criminal legal system and the child protection system. That is what self-determination is.

Governments have spoken about self-determination for many years without delivering it. They give us a ‘seat at the table’, a small portion of the funding we need, or a promise to improve social and economic outcomes for our people – but none of this is self-determination.

Self-determination is when we have the power and resources to improve our lives.

Delivering self-determination is not hard. Governments can easily implement the recommendations of Yoorrook if they choose to. The only potential roadblock to delivering these recommendations is political will. We hope that all of Victoria’s politicians will accept Yoorrook’s recommendations and quickly begin taking action to enable self-determination.

VALS is deeply proud of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Victoria. So many of our people shared their truths before the Yoorrook Justice Commission, which meant reliving deep traumas that have had a lasting impact on their lives. They did this to help our communities heal and to bring about the transformative change we need.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the most overincarcerated peoples on earth and we continue to die in custody in preventable circumstances. Victoria has the highest rate of Aboriginal children in out-of-home-care and the highest rate of Aboriginal children on care and protection orders.

These truths are the result of systemic and individual racism that began with invasion and have continued to this very day.

We are the oldest continuous culture on earth. We thrived on this land because of our connections to community and Country, our complex governance structures, and our knowledge of the land.

In the last 235 years, we have survived massacres, oppressive missions that were like forced labour camps, assimilation policies, slavery, and the Stolen Generations. Those events have caused so much pain for our people, but we have continued our struggle to create a fair world where we can once again thrive on the land we have lived on for tens of thousands of years.

The recommendations of the Yoorrook report all speak to key themes of the transformational change our people have demanded, including:

  • Accepting and understanding the connection between contemporary and past injustice
  • Addressing systemic injustice
  • Accountability, capability and compliance with human and cultural rights obligations

Along with the recommendations to enable true self-determination, other key recommendations include:

  • Allowing Aboriginal peoples to create a dedicated Act to cover Aboriginal children in the child protection system
  • Taking specific action to reduce the criminalisation of Aboriginal children in residential care
  • Improving Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act to make it more accessible and effective
  • Establishing a new independent police oversight authority
  • Removing the reverse-onus provisions in the Bail Act 1977
  • Ending prison lockdowns for administrative or management reasons.

The 46 recommendations in Yoorrook’s report are achievable. They are what our people have asked for over many years based on our lived-experience and vast expertise. Many of the proposed changes reflect the structures and processes that have been adopted in similar jurisdictions, such as Aotearoa and Canada.

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

“The Yoorrook report published today is a great show of our strength as a people. So much effort and expertise has gone into the submissions and testimony that underpin the report and its recommendations. Our communities should be proud of the work they have done to advocate for transformational change.”

“Despite all the promises and seats at different tables, governments have failed to deliver better outcomes for our people. Settler themes of governance, control and punishment have not ceased over the last 235 years – rather they have just evolved and become more insidious.”

“At VALS, we see the damage that the criminal legal and child protection systems do to our people every day. We also see the great work that our communities are capable of, but the potential of this work is often limited by governments that don’t provide the support our communities need to improve the lives of our people.”

“It is time that our people had the ability to design and implement transformational change to the systems that were designed to wipe us out, so that we can create systems that allow us to thrive on this land once again.”

“The recommendations in Yoorrook’s report need urgent implementation. There is no reason to delay them. They are backed by evidence and experience. If the Victorian Government fails to implement all 46 recommendations over the next 12 months it will be because they have chosen not to prioritise our voices.”

“The truths told by Yoorrook and the path they have laid out is not one for the faint-hearted. It requires us to be brave and it requires us to look to the shadows of our ancestors and honour their calls for justice, for truth and for treaty, so that they can finally make it home.”


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