Victoria has made history announcing the creation of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, the nation’s first truth-telling process examining the injustices faced by the Victorian Aboriginal community since colonisation.
Now there are calls for the same move to be made in WA.
Scheduled to begin in July, the Commission was announced by the Andrews Government in partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, an elected group of Aboriginal representatives across the State to negotiate Treaty.
With Royal Commission powers, Yoo-rrook will have majority Aboriginal community leaders as commissioners, including at least one Elder and one Aboriginal representative with legal expertise.
First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria co-chair Marcus Stewart said the Commission was an opportunity to create a Victoria that everyone could belong to.
“The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission is different. For the first time in history, we have held the pen.”
“We have co-authored these terms of reference in partnership to meet the community aspiration of what they wanted this to deliver and look like,” he said.
“They have informed us and driven this the whole way.
“It is a testament to the decades of advocacy and the generations of activism of our community here in Victoria.”
Mr Stewart noted there was an immense task ahead.
“It is going to be re-traumatising and it will bring up grief,” he said.
“It is going to be tough, and it will be tough also for our fellow Victorians who will be confronted with this history that has so often been denied, silenced or dismissed,” he said.
“Now is the reckoning of where we moved forward together and unite on the true history of this State … we see the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission as the avenue on how we can create that change together.”
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive Nerita Waight said the Commission came at a crucial time in Australia’s history.
“The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission is being established at a time when the world is paying attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent tragic deaths in custody of three Aboriginal people in the first week of March,” she said.
“An important function of Yoo-rrook will be helping write the true history of colonialism in Victoria.
“By creating a shared and accepted history that is true, then we can progress a lot of the systemic change that is currently blocked by people that do not want to accept the reality of invasion and colonisation.
“If Yoo-rrook is successful in this challenge, it will serve as model for what may be achieved on a national level and be a catalyst for genuine Treaty negotiations.”
Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe congratulated the Andrews Government and the Assembly on the Commission but said truth-telling must include all Victorian Aboriginal people.
“I am concerned that not all 38 Nations are represented as part of the Treaty Assembly, there are only 11 Nations represented,” she said.
“To have a real Treaty in this country, we can’t exclude people.”
Ms Thorpe called for governments to be authentic in their commitment to Treaty.
“This is one good step of good faith, but we need that backed up by action and moratoriums on any further destruction of our people while these Treaty conversations are happening,” she said.
WA Greens Senate candidate Dorinda Cox spoke to NIT about the need for a process resembling the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission in WA.
“We have had significant events in our backyard, pointing to things like Juukan Caves and the destruction of Country like what is happening to the Fitzroy River, we cannot ignore that stuff. That is at the heart of who we are,” Ms Cox said.
She said traditionally these types of government-led processes were “geared and manipulated” to have a level of control over Traditional Owners.
“For me, this is a great opportunity — if we can get it right — to move that into the future and create momentum toward a Treaty-making process for our State.”
Ms Cox said self-determination was of the utmost importance when it came to truth-telling.
“This really has to be driven from that grassroots movement, it cannot be driven by governments nor interfered with by governments. It has to be a self-determined process,” she said.
“The focus should be around what is the impact for us as First Nations people in WA that have been the legacy of colonialism that still continues?
“What are the structures that inhibit us and stop us from pivoting into a future that we can all belong to?
“It’s not just a policy or strategy that is hollow and can be taken away. It has to be long-term, it has to be sustainable, and it has to be tri-partisan.
“There needs to be a solid foundation for this to be built and there has to be accountability.”
By Rachael Knowles