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Yoorrook launches new focus on education, health and housing

Giovanni Torre -

The Yoorrook Justice Commission has released four issues papers calling for submissions for its inquiry into secondary and tertiary education, health and housing injustice affecting First Peoples in Victoria.

On Thursday Yoorrook called all Victorians, organisations and government departments to make a submission on the extent, causes and consequences of injustice within the education, health and housing systems.

Submissions can include the barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in accessing services and potential solutions to fix problems and improve accountability.

Deputy Chair Adjunct Professor Sue-Anne Hunter, who is leading Yoorrook's health inquiry, said that while everyone should have a safe home, quality education and healthcare that responds to their needs, for many Indigenous people in Victoria, "these basics are out of reach".

"Yoorrook has investigated systemic injustice experienced by First Peoples in Victoria's child protection and criminal justice systems. Now the focus has shifted to education, health and housing," she said.

"These colonial systems are all connected, often pipelining children from one injustice to the next. Evidence shows that a child who faces insecure housing at an early age is less likely to go to school and more likely to experience poorer health outcomes. In turn, they are also more likely to end up in the child protection or criminal justice systems.

"While many First Peoples continue to suffer ongoing impacts of inter-generational trauma, factors like culture, knowledge and access to traditional lands have proven to be strong protective mechanisms when it comes to health and wellbeing."

First Peoples are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, more than three times as likely to experience racism in the health system, and are more than four times more likely to receive mental health services.

Prof. Hunter said Yoorrook is investigating "how these systems impact First Peoples, the culturally appropriate programs and services that are making a difference, and the solutions needed to end the injustice against our people and in turn create a better future for all Victorians".

Commissioner Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter, who is leading Yoorrook's education inquiry, said Yoorrook knows that inequity for First Peoples is "stark" across the education system in Victoria.

"State reviews of Aboriginal education over the last two decades consistently demonstrate that barriers to educational justice remain at the schooling and tertiary level," she said.

"Recent data indicate that First Peoples' children are more likely to be assessed as vulnerable than non-Indigenous children, less likely to be in the top bands in national literacy and numeracy results and less likely to complete Year 12. These statistics have remained largely unchanged over the last decade.

"The educational gap for First Peoples in Victoria continues into post-compulsory schooling. TAFE and University enrolment numbers remain stubbornly below non-Indigenous numbers and First Nations students also experience lower retention and completion rates."

At least 40 percent of Aboriginal children are assessed as vulnerable on Australian Early Development Census measures.

Prof. Walter said Yoorrook is calling for submissions responding to the issues papers released Thursday to better understand the barriers First Peoples face in accessing all levels of education, as well as the racism many still endure within the system.

"Now is the time to have your say," she said.

In 2023 First Peoples in Victoria are 14 times more likely than non-First Peoples to seek homelessness services. There are currently more than 5,800 First Peoples on the waiting list for social housing.

Commissioner Travis Lovett, leading Yoorrook's housing inquiry, noted that homelessness wasn't an experience of First Peoples before colonisation.

"Country and family were home. Yet today, First Peoples in Victoria face some of the highest rates of housing instability and homelessness in the country – a country we have occupied for thousands of years. To be homelessness in our own home is a true example of injustice," he said.

"Yoorrook's inquiry will look at the ongoing injustice faced by First Peoples in the housing sector, from homelessness to home ownership. This includes how the lack of housing options and supply disproportionately impact First Peoples, and how this intersects with the child protection, criminal justice, health and education systems. Having a safe home is the foundation to address many of the challenges our people face.

"Now is the time to have your say. Yoorrook is calling for submissions from all Victorians and organisations. By taking part in the truth telling process we can find common ground and work together to build a better shared future for everyone in this place we all call home."

Submissions to Yoorrook about education, health or housing, or another issue affecting First Peoples, can be made via the Yoorrook Justice Commission website.

Support is available for First Peoples considering making a submission, including free, independent legal advice and wellbeing support.

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