The Yoorrook Justice Commission has called on the Victorian Government to transform Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems to address systemic injustice against First Peoples.
The truth telling commission’s Yoorrook for Justice: Report into Victoria’s Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems, tabled in Parliament earlier today, makes 46 recommendations for reform.
The report details extensive systemic injustice, racism, discriminatory laws and policy failures that have, and continue to, cause harm to First Peoples. It highlights that present injustice has deep roots in the colonial foundations of the state.
During its inquiry, the Commission heard evidence of children being put on a path to the child protection system, and then the justice system, from the time they were born.
Commissioners were told deeply personal stories of the impact of police racism and brutality, of the harm of child removal, and of failures within Victoria’s prison system. Yoorrook heard evidence of gross human and cultural rights violations, past and ongoing, committed at the hands of the state.
The report makes landmark recommendations about self-determination for First Peoples in Victoria. First Peoples must have decision-making power, authority, control and resources in the child protection and criminal justice systems as these relate to them. The Victorian Government must uphold its commitment to self-determination through negotiation under the treaty process.
Yoorrook also recommends:
- Negotiating through treaty new, dedicated legislation, developed by First Peoples, for the safety, wellbeing and protection of First Peoples children and young people
- Creating a new independent police oversight body to end the practice of police investigating police complaints
- Changes to bail laws that go beyond amendments recently introduced to Parliament to stop people being unnecessarily imprisoned
- Raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years without exceptions
- Prohibiting routine strip searching in all Victorian adult and youth prisons
- Ensuring and strengthening human and cultural rights
Chair of the Commission and proud Wergaia/Wamba Wamba Elder, Professor Eleanor Bourke AM, said:
“Decades on from the Stolen Generations, the Victorian Government is removing First Peoples children at the highest rate in Australia. Despite commitments to do the opposite, the rate at which the Victorian Government is imprisoning Aboriginal people has increased significantly over the past decade.
“Yoorrook heard seven formal apologies from Ministers, senior public servants and the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police for the historic and ongoing harm caused by Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems against our people. Their words were important but the real test is the actions they take now.
“There has been some progress since Yoorrook started this inquiry. However, small steps are not enough. Self-determination and systemic reform are needed, including in relation to human and cultural rights. This report must be a catalyst for transformative change. The foundations for change have been laid in Victoria through truth and treaty. Now is the time for action.”
Deputy Chair of the Commission and proud Wurundjeri and Ngurai Illum Wurrung woman Adjunct Professor Sue-Anne Hunter said:
“For First Peoples, the child protection system has long been a source of injustice and trauma and a pipeline into the criminal justice system. Despite numerous inquiries and political promises, these systems remain broken for Aboriginal people. This report provides a roadmap to end the injustice against our mob and deliver genuine self-determination, creating a better future for all Victorians.
“On the opening day of Yoorrook’s hearings last December, Premier Andrews said his government would ‘waste no time’ in delivering on Yoorrook’s recommendations. I urge the Premier to live up to these words, because our people cannot wait any longer.”
Commissioner and proud Kerrupmara/Gunditjmara man Travis Lovett said:
“First Peoples repeatedly told Yoorrook they want genuine self-determination. This is not just consulting with or listening to Aboriginal people. Self-determination means First Peoples setting the agenda on the issues that affect us. It means handing over power and control so that we can design, establish and run the systems and services to support our families and communities to thrive.
“The most meaningful, transformative change needed in Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems is to embed genuine self-determination for First Peoples. This is what Yoorrook has recommended. The Victorian Government and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria have created the opportunity to achieve this through the treaty process.”
Commissioner and proud Palawa woman Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter said:
“For First Peoples, Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems are failing to protect children and uphold justice. These systems are still deeply embedded in their colonial roots. There is an unbroken line from past injustice to present day failures, which cannot be allowed to continue.
“First Peoples need a child protection system that supports children in its care to grow up healthy, strong and connected to culture and Country, and a justice system that lives up to its name.
Commissioner and former Supreme Court justice, Prof the Hon Kevin Bell AM KC said:
“As a former justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria I was shocked to receive evidence of systemic human and cultural rights violations committed against First Peoples by the state. Yoorrook has made strong recommendations to ensure this harmful pattern does not continue, including clarifying and strengthening the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.”
About the inquiry
Over the course of its inquiry into child protection and criminal justice over the past year, Yoorrook held 27 hearing days with 84 witnesses, undertook 12 roundtable discussions across Victoria, received over 100 submissions, made five adult and youth prison visits and received over 4,000 government documents in response to its notices to produce evidence.
Media enquiries: Evan Schuurman, 0408 847 385, [email protected]
Notes to editor:
- The full list of recommendations is available here: yoorrookforjustice.org.au/recommendations
- Yoorrook for Justice: Report into Victoria’s Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems can be downloaded here: yoorrookforjustice.org.au
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