The 2022 election is an opportunity for Victoria’s politicians to dream big and commit to policies that will deliver for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the immediate and longer terms.

The Treaty process and the establishment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission by the Victorian Government has the potential to deliver a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria. However, this potential will only be realised if it is supported in the immediate term by investments in Aboriginal legal services and systemic reform of the justice system.

VALS is asking all politicians running for the next election to commit to:

  • Fully-funding culturally safe legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people where they live. Aboriginal legal services have been persistently underfunded by governments, while demand for Aboriginal legal services has increased because of Government policies and the COVID-19 pandemic response. This persistent under-funding must be addressed by any politician wanting to deliver justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria.
  • Reforming the broken bail system. Victoria’s current bail laws mean half of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that are incarcerated have been found guilty of nothing, having been remanded for alleged minor offences like shoplifting and non-payment of fines. Most women who are incarcerated are victim-survivors of family violence. Many of them are charged with offences that would not receive a prison sentence if they were convicted. We need bail reform that makes custody an absolute last resort, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCDIAC) over 3 decades ago.
  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old. Victoria still puts 10 year old children in prison. The health advice is clear; criminalising children under the age of 14 does tremendous damage. Research shows that imprisoning children does not reduce crime, nor make the community safer. Rather, it increases the likelihood of producing adult offenders. Victoria’s politicians must commit to raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old, and the minimum of age of detention to 16, within the first 100 days of a new parliament.
  • Establishing an independent office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. The Aboriginal Justice Caucus has been calling for a social justice commissioner to independently monitor progress on implementation of RCDIAC recommendations and coronial inquest recommendations for almost 2 decades. Victoria’s politicians should commit to creating a social justice commissioner position, to be designed by the Aboriginal Justice Caucus.
  • Implementing culturally-appropriate independent detention oversight. Under Australia’s commitment to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Victoria must implement independent detention oversight. IBAC and the Ombudsman published reports in 2021 raising significant concerns with the operation of Victoria’s prisons. The COVID-19 pandemic also highlighted problems in other places of detention. Victoria’s politicians should promise to implement this commitment through consultation with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to ensure that this oversight mechanism has the trust and confidence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria.

VALS has consistently campaigned for these reforms. We have developed detailed policy papers and submissions for government and parliamentary committees. These are well-evidenced proposals, that have the strong support of our community.

Self-determination must be at the core of any policy commitments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

VALS encourages politicians to be ambitious. They should read recommendations from VALS’ Building Back Better and Submission to the Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System. These are comprehensive, evidence-based, expert guides on how to ensure an enduring legacy through justice reform in Victoria.

We also encourage the current Parliament and Government to begin this reform agenda now. They do not need to wait.

Quotes Attributable to Des Morgan, Chairman, VALS:

“There is broad public support for an ambitious agenda that delivers justice for the Aboriginal community. Every Invasion Day, there are bigger and bigger crowds at the peaceful marches. Every year at VALS, we have seen an increasing number of people looking to volunteer or donate to help our services and advocacy. Politicians need to think big on Aboriginal justice issues, or they will not be taken seriously by voters.”

“The discrimination that mob face every day is systemic and unrelenting. Tinkering around the edges of one or two issues will not deliver justice for our people. We need politicians to commit to an ambitious reform agenda that will lead to real change in the everyday lives of our people.”

“We strongly encourage all politicians to commit to an election platform that focuses on early intervention and prevention and achieving a justice system that is free from racism, and that is fair for Aboriginal people.”

“In 2022, Victorians will expect the political debate to have matured beyond the misleading grandstanding of being “tough on crime”. We hope that everyone will commit to developing policy platforms that are guided by the evidence base of what works and those with lived experience. The false promise of a “Law and Order” approach has certainly not achieved a safer and healthier community. We have more police and prison spaces than ever but that is simply a mark of failure; a failure of policies to prevent, deter and intervene early.”

“VALS has done a huge amount of policy development work in recent years, grounded in almost 50 years of delivering the only legal service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria.”