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Disappointment as majority of Yoorrook recommendations rejected or not implemented in full

Dechlan Brennan -

Indigenous groups in Victoria have responded with disappointment to the announcement by the Victorian Government that only 28 of the 46 recommendations laid out by the Yoorrook Justice Commission will be adopted.

On Wednesday, the government responded to the recommendations laid out by the second interim report of the historical truth-telling inquiry - handed down in September last year - confirming it supported, and was committed to implementing, four of the recommendations in full.

Furthermore, it announced they supported a further 24 recommendations "in principle" and would consider 15 more.

However, it is the three that have been rejected outright which have caused significant consternation amongst the Victorian Indigenous community.

The recommendations not supported outright are a modification of bail laws; the ability for individuals to bring cases to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for government decisions made in breach of the state's Human Rights Charter; and raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Victoria to 14 years without exceptions and prohibit the detention of children under 16 years.

In response to the announcement, Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission Professor Eleanor Bourke, said that given the weight of the personal testimony at the hearings - which included deeply personal accounts from First Peoples witnesses of suffering – the commissioners were "disappointed by the government's decision not to support three recommendations".

"Recommendations regarding the Bail Act and the minimum age of criminal responsibility and detention are crucial given the alarming over-incarceration of First Peoples adults and children, and ongoing deaths in custody," Professor Bourke said.

"These recommendations were not made lightly. They go to the heart of addressing ongoing injustice against First Peoples."

Professor Bourke said the 46 recommendations in the report "followed a year-long inquiry into systemic injustice within Victoria's child protection and criminal justice systems".

"It found both systems remain broken for First Peoples, and that the present-day failures of these systems are deeply rooted in the colonial foundations of the state," the Wergaia/Wamba Wamba Elder said.

"The report provides a roadmap to transform Victoria's child protection and criminal justice systems and create a better future for all Victorians. Commissioners stand by all the recommendations contained in the report."

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) said the government response was "unworthy of the heart wrenching truths that were told at the Yoorrook Justice Commission".

Chief executive Nerita Waight said the response took 210 days but "reads like it was slapped together overnight," and argued it was "so disappointing" the government hadn't taken the report "more seriously" and implemented the recommendations in full.

"The Victorian Government's response to the Yoorrook for Justice report does not give our people any confidence that they are ready to commit to the transformational change treaty requires when they can't even lay the groundwork in the child protection and criminal justice systems," Ms Waight said.

Ms Waight has been highly critical of the new Premier Jacinta Allan, who took over from Daniel Andrews last year, previously claiming the Premier was developing a "terrible track record" when it came to law reform.

On Wednesday she said it felt like a "paralysis has set into the Victorian Government since the change of Premier, highlighting the heavily-criticised U-turn regarding the "long-standing promise to reform bail laws for children".

"Treaty needs to transform Victoria," Ms Waight said.

"That is going to require the Victorian Government to dream big and be bold.

"I want to help them to do that. I want Premier Jacinta Allan to be the first leader in Australia to sign a Treaty with our people – but the Premier needs to commit to a big vision and whip her government into shape so that it can deliver."

In a statement, Minister for Treaty and First Peoples Natalie Hutchins noted the work at the Commission has been "groundbreaking" and reiterated both Truth and Treaty - led by Aboriginal people - was the "best way to deliver improved outcomes and close the gap".

National Indigenous Times has contacted Minister Hutchins regarding comments made by both Professor Bourke and Nerita Waight.

There were concerns even as the report was released last year that the 12-month timeframe would be unlikely to be met, with Daniel Andrews labelling them "challenging".

However, the change in premier has coincided with several changes - including the delay and then U-turn of youth bail reforms - which have frustrated Indigenous groups.

The Victorian Government has legislated several reforms in the past 12 months, including new bail laws, implemented in the wake of the death of Indigenous woman Veronica Nelson; and outlawing the criminalisation of public drunkenness.

It has also committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 by the end of the year, and then by 14 by the end of 2027. An independent review panel announced in October have begun consultations on a new alternative service model.

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