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First Peoples' Assembly express disappointment at rejection of Yoorrook recommendations

Dechlan Brennan -

The reaction to the Victorian Government's decision to implement less than 10 per cent of the recommendations made by the Yoorrook Justice Commission in full has continued, with the First Peoples’ Assembly arguing they were “concerned” by the rejection or delay of key reforms. 

The response by the government to the interim report by the truth-telling inquiry sees only four of the key recommendations adopted in full, with the Victorian government seeking more time for many of the 46 recommendations, including reforms surrounding child protection and justice and police oversight. 

Recommendations such an independent police oversight body separate from IBAC, improving access to pre-charge cautions in the justice system and legislating the prevention of racial discrimination have all been listed as under consideration and requiring more work. 

Further recommendations for Indigenous Victorians to have a standalone child protection system, as well as being put in charge of aspects of the criminal justice system have been pushed back for further analysis and are likely to make up part of the Treaty negotiations to start this year. 

The First Peoples' Assembly said the delays revealed the Government was not moving “fast or hard enough” ahead of the negotiations.

First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria co-chair Ngarra Murray. (Image: First Peoples' Assembly)
First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria co-chair Ngarra Murray. (Image: First Peoples' Assembly)

Assembly co-chair and Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, Ngarra Murray said she was frustrated the government had taken over 200 days to respond to the report and was disappointed about the “disrespect” shown to people who gave evidence or made submissions in the truth-telling process. 

However, she admitted some of the government responses to the recommendations left her hopeful. 

“We know there’s always going to be some disagreements and there is a lot we can work with here, but it is frustrating that we’re coming up against the same old sticking points,” she said. 

“The justice system and child protection systems simply aren’t working for our families, and we need urgent reforms now. We need real action now.” 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island family violence prevention and legal service Djirra said it was important the government had recognised the need for reform of Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems.

Chief executive Antoinette Braybrook said access to legal representation and holistic support for Indigenous women was “absolutely critical to preventing the damaging and costly removal of our children from their mums, families and communities".

“Through our close work with Aboriginal women, we see first-hand the difference that access to early legal assistance and holistic wraparound support has for our women,” Ms Braybrook said.

“We see the traumatic and unnecessary removal of children and the blaming of mums that experience family violence.

“We will continue to advocate for the right for all Aboriginal women wherever they are in Victoria to have access to the culturally safe legal services that Djirra provides.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Minister for Treaty and First Peoples Natalie Hutchins said: "We've supported a lot of recommendations that go to improving the protection of Aboriginal children through our response in this report.”

“But also…we have acknowledged that there are 14 recommendations that need further work or further consultation.

 
 
 
 
 
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However, it’s the three recommendations that have been rejected that have been the subject of criticism.

Raising the age of criminal responsibility, including calls to stop jailing children under 16; youth bail reform; and expanding the remit of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to pursue human rights abuses, are all considered vital reforms to help First Nations people in Victoria. 

Yoorrook chair Eleanor Bourke said the rejection of these recommendations was "disappointing." 

The government has said it agrees “in principle” to 28 of the recommendations, but wouldn’t be hastening its timeframe in raising of the age of criminal responsibility or changing its decision to not give youths the presumption of bail. 

“We [the government] said at the start of this process of truth-telling… that we would not stop our work in closing the gap and working with community to do that, whilst this process was underway,” Minister Hutchins said. 

“And I think our responses to recommendations today really underpin that there is significant change suggested in these recommendations…and that it's going to take time for us to continue to work through and implement”.

Assembly co-chair and Gunditjmara man Reuben Berg said Aboriginal people were “all too familiar with promises written in the sand,” arguing the Assembly would be looking to hold these “in principle” commitments to account during Treaty negotiations. 

“When it comes to Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal people are the experts,” Mr Berg said. 

“That’s why we’ve created a Treaty negotiation framework that will directly empower Traditional Owners of Country to develop and deliver practical solutions at a local level. We want to get on with it.”

Managing Lawyer at Human Rights Law Centre Monique Hurley, who gave evidence at Yoorrook, said the Victorian government had “dismissed” the opportunity handed to them by Indigenous Victorians, “who have always had the answers".

“The evidence is clear - prisons do not make communities safer. As heard by Yoorrook, discriminatory laws, systemic racism and racist policing are a toxic combination resulting in an unjust legal system that enables the mass imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Ms Hurley said. 

In response to a question asking why Aboriginal people were still required to wait for change - with many of the recommendations still under consideration or only agreed to “in principle” - Minister Hutchins said: “I would ask First Nations people in Victoria to take heart of the fact that we have said yes to a majority of these recommendations, and we've shown a willingness to continue to work on those that do need more work in consideration…And I think that is a positive step forward.”

The Minister said she accepted there was more work to be done by the government in the truth-telling sphere, noting this was the first interim Yoorrook report to be handed down and hearings are ongoing. 

“We are examining through this truth-telling process, 200 years of colonisation and its effect on individuals that have passed, and that are suffering still today; the effects of that colonisation, and the stripping of their access to culture,” Minister Hutchins said. 

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