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Jacinta Allan fronts Yoorrook, a First Nations truth-telling inquiry

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The State Government set up the Yoorrook Justice Commission in 2021, which is a First Nations truth-telling inquiry.
Jacinta Allan Yoorrook

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan has become the first state leader to front a First Nations truth-telling inquiry called Yoorrook.

The State Government set up the Yoorrook Justice Commission in 2021. It is to “recognise the impacts of colonisation and address historic and ongoing injustices“ experienced by Victorian First Nations peoples.

Speaking at one of the commission’s final public hearings this week, Premier Allan said: “From the beginning until today, the policies and practices of government have created the gap that exists between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians.”

Background

In an Australian first, the Victorian Government launched Yoorrook in 2021.

‘Yoorrook’ means ‘truth’ in the Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba language of the First Peoples of north-western Victoria.

Several government ministers and officials, like police and community leaders, have appeared at the hearings.

Yoorrook will conclude next year, when it’s expected to hand down recommendations for systemic change.

Police apology

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton fronted the inquiry last year. He apologised “unreservedly” for the historic and ongoing harm police have caused First Nations people.

He described a pattern of “frequent, intrusive and detrimental contact between police and Aboriginal communities, families and individuals”.

Patton said he couldn’t “begin to imagine the profound distress” caused by the police’s forced removal of First Nations children from their families.

Jacinta Allan faces Yoorrook

This week, Jacinta Allan fronted Yoorrook, where she spoke about massacres of First Nations people in Victoria.

Allan said in preparing her statement for the hearing, that she felt ashamed by her lack of knowledge about massacres of First Nations people “that occurred so close” to her home.

She noted that the state’s education curriculum could be updated. Allan said it should include “this historical truth of the record that will come out of Yoorrook”.

“Growing up and living as I have all my life in central Victoria, on Dja Dja Wurrung country, I did not know about the massacres that occurred so close to home. That distress carries with me today. It brings me a sense of shame and distress personally that I did not know that.”

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan speaking at the Yoorrook hearing.

Interim findings

Yoorrook handed down an interim report in 2023. It made 46 recommendations to improve First Nations outcomes in the child protection and criminal justice systems, across five categories:

  1. Reform through treaty
  2. Accountability, cultural competency, and responsiveness
  3. Urgent child protection reforms
  4. Urgent criminal justice reforms
  5. Legal reforms to enable Yoorrook to fulfil its truth-telling role.

Yoorrook will run until the end of June 2025.

Recommendations

The Government supported four recommendations in full out of the 46 put forward by the interim report.

It gave ‘in principle’ support to 24 recommendations. This means it “generally” supported the “intent” of some of the report’s ideas. However, it did “not necessarily support” the methods put forward to achieve them.

It supported increased transparency around child protection services funding and cultural training for relevant public service workers.

The Government rejected a proposal to immediately raise Victoria’s minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14, and ban under 16-year-olds from being detained.

Criminal responsibility is the minimum age at which a child can be held legally accountable for alleged crimes.

Last year, the Victorian Parliament voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, and then to 14 in later years.

A bill to enact this change will be introduced later this year.

Response

Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People Meena Singh said the state “has the highest rates of removal of Aboriginal children and young people in the country.”

Singh said there was “very little to be positive about” in the Government’s response to Yoorrook’s interim recommendations.

Earlier this month, Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Walsh said the Government needs to focus on “closing the gap and improving education and housing”, and “prioritise action over bureaucracy”.

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