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VACCHO and Lowitja Institute call for dedicated Aboriginal-led accountability body

Dechlan Brennan -

A new joint study from the Lowitja Institute, Equity Economics and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation has underscored the urgent need for an Aboriginal-led accountability body.

The study, which comes in the wake of the scathing Productivity Commission report on the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, said the body would ensure government transparency as well as maintaining the standards in both the development and delivery of the services.

VACCHO chief executive, Gunditjmara woman Jill Gallagher, said the consensus amongst stakeholders in the study identified the need for an independent accountability mechanism to ensure the government is delivering for First Nations communities.

"The mechanism needs to be an enduring, Aboriginal-led body that increases transparency and accountability among governments and mainstream services," Ms Gallagher said.

"This study demonstrates how an Aboriginal-Led accountability body, can support a strong and sustainable future for mob, both in Victoria and across the country."

Victorian Aboriginal Authority: an initial feasibility study for discussion argued there is a "clear accountability gap" in Victoria, with both room and desire amongst the Indigenous community for a "permanent, dedicated Aboriginal-led entity with independent power" to oversee government decisions that impact Indigenous people.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, organisations and communities have been calling for decades for an Aboriginal-led mechanism, independent of government, that can hold it to account," the study said.

"So too has the need for structural shifts which embed and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' right to self-determination and allows Aboriginal peoples to regain control over the process and practices through which their affairs are governed."

Benefits outlined in the study include improving the "responsiveness and impact of Government policies, programs and services," which affect the safety of First Nations people; enhancing government accountability for the design, delivery and monitoring of commitments to Indigenous people; and maintaining previous commitments by the government to increase accountability in support for improved outcomes for Victorian First Nations people.

Describing the need for further accountability, the study concluded the current machinery of government in Victoria failing to serve First Nations people to maximum effectiveness.

"The siloed structures of Government fundamentally fail to meet the multi-faceted needs of Aboriginal people and communities," the study said.

"Efforts to improve the life outcomes of Aboriginal people…have not proven to serve Aboriginal communities as they should.

"Consequently, Aboriginal people's interests and their life outcomes are more vulnerable to chronic government underperformance and sudden policy changes compared to other Victorians."

Lowitja Institute chief executive Janine Mohamed said Indigenous groups nationwide had been calling for governments to change the way they work with First Nations people.

"Years of consultation processes, reviews and reports have shown that the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal peoples can be improved through better coordination across government agencies and levels of government," Ms Mohamed, a Narungga Kaurna woman, said.

"Post-referendum this is an excellent opportunity for governments to hear our voice and embed our perspectives into policies and laws that affect us."

The Victorian Government has already made commitments as part of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework (VAAF) to identify, with the goal to eventually establish, an independent, Indigenous-led evaluation and review structure.

It has also endeavoured to review the work in order to transform the way it interacts with Aboriginal communities and groups, ensuring maximum effectiveness and impact.

The findings in the study mirror responses laid out recently concerning Indigenous outcomes. In the Productivity Commission's report, the fourth recommendation noted: "Governments need to prioritise setting up an independent mechanism without further delay," whilst a recommendation in the Yoorrook Justice Commission called for "the establishment of an independent and authoritative oversight and accountability commission for the monitoring and evaluation of First Peoples related policies and programs."

VACCHO and the Lowitja Institute said they anticipated collaboration with the First Peoples' Assembly and other Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to help shape the framework of the proposal. The Assembly has advocated for Indigenous-led responses to improve outcomes in key metrics and will begin Treaty negotiations this year with the Victorian government.

Ms Gallagher said Treaty "serves as the cornerstone for meaningful engagement and accountability".

"It is through the Treaty process that we envision the establishment of a robust accountability mechanism that reflects our shared values and aspirations."

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