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Daniel Andrews fails to commit to reform timeframe laid out in Yoorrook report

Dechlan Brennan -

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews cast doubt on the likelihood his government will deliver reforms within the time frame recommended by the Yoorrook Justice Commission in their interim report tabled in Parliament on Monday.

The Indigenous truth-telling inquiry made 46 recommendations to overhaul the state's child protection and criminal justice systems.

It also called on the state to stop detaining children under 16, create an independent police watchdog to end the practice of police investigating police complaints, and for there to be a First Nations-controlled child protection system for the for the "safety, wellbeing and protection of First Peoples children".

The report gave a specific time frame for the implementation of the reforms:

"Yoorrook expects that the Victorian Government immediately commence work to implement the urgent recommendations made in this report so that they can be achieved over the next 12 months."

Yoorrook Commissioner Sue-Anne Hunter told a press conference the recommendations were "robust, grounded in extensive evidence, and entirely achievable with the necessary political commitment".

However, the ABC reported Mr Andrews said the time frame was "challenging" and would not commit to a deadline.

"But again, being challenged is what this is all about. If this was easy someone else would have done it a hundred years ago," he said.

He declined to immediately comment on the individual recommendations laid out in the report.

"We will look at each and every one of the recommendations that have been made, from this report and the next report," he said.

"Cabinet will have a proper, deliberative process to work through line by line, recommendation by recommendation and we will report progress."

The Victorian opposition noted that whilst things needed to change, and the state was failing Indigenous people, the they expressed reservations about creating a "separate justice systems for Aboriginal Victorians", the ABC reported.

In response to Victoria's Mental Health Royal Commission Mr Andrews vowed to implement every recommendation that would come out of it but, despite pledging to support the independence of Yoorrook's work, he has so far not made a similar commitment to reforming the state's justice and child protection systems.

Indigenous, legal and human rights groups have pushed for many of the recommendations in the report, especially the raising of the age of criminal responsibility and police oversight.

In May, Victoria's chief police commissioner Shane Patton apologised to the Yoorrook commission for the systematic racism in the Victoian police force that went "undetected, unchecked and unpunished".

"I formally and unreservedly apologise for police actions that have caused or contributed to the trauma experienced by so many Aboriginal families in our jurisdiction," he said.

One of Yoorrooks recommendations - the immediate raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 14 - goes against the government's time frame, which has laid out a raise from 10 to 12 by 2024, and then to 14 in 2027.

Wergaia and Wamba Wamba Elder and Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Professor Eleanor Bourke AM, said yesterday that some progress had already started to take place from information heard during the inquiry.

"The government has made commitments regarding Victoria's bail laws, public drunkenness laws and the minimum age of criminal responsibility — all of which disproportionately harm our people," she said.

"These commitments are steps in the right direction."

Victoria's Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Meena Singh, told ABC RN that the government needs to listen to Aboriginal people and move forward their time frame.

"So many different people have called for the raising of the age to 14, no exceptions, as soon as possible," she said.

"Children are becoming engaged with the criminal justice system at a very young age without those traumas being addressed.

"We know the earlier a child goes into the criminal justice system the more likely they are to stay entrenched and the more likely they are to progress to adult offending."

The commission's report made clear that any delays in reform due to Treaty negotiations - which will encompass some of the report's most pressing recommendations, such as independent justice and child protection systems - would not be considered as reasonable.

"[Treaty] must not be used as an excuse for delay given the evidence Yoorrook has presented," the report said.

"Yoorrook will monitor the implementation of the recommendations made in this report and will require the State to report on the status of implementation during the remainder of this royal commission."

In March, lawyers for the government were hauled before the commission and forced to apologise for a failure to provide hundreds of key documents on time. This resulted in a delay to interview government ministers and a push back of multiple Yoorrook interim reports.

At the time Professor Bourke said the response was "more business as usual" which showed "a fundamental misunderstanding of the truth-telling process".

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive, Yorta Yorta and Narrandjeri woman Nerita Waight said a failure to implement the recommendations laid out in the report would be a political decision.

"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," she said.

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