The Campaign for Indigenous Justice

By | 1 Dec 2023

Yoorrook Justice Commission’s report – justice, politics and the uncomfortable truth

The 4 September 2023 report by the Yoorrook Justice Commission (the Commission) on the history of engagement of first peoples with the child protection and criminal justice system illustrates the challenge of moving to justice for first peoples given the political realities faced by governments.

You can read the report here  but the core proposals, rooted in the principle of self-determination, are to bring substantive change to the nature of, and outcomes of, indigenous engagement with those systems. The Commission report makes concrete proposals including 

  • a legislated First Nations-controlled child welfare system for indigenous young persons 
  • a mechanism for indigenous oversight of policies and accountability via a commission, and
  • reform to systems design based on first peoples’ right to self-determination.

It also recommends the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 14 to be brought forward to 2024, from 2027, and a ban on detaining those under 16. 

The Premier Daniel Andrews responded by committing to the State Government considering the recommendations but expressing doubt about the 12 month timeframe. (ABC News website, 5 September 2023). 

The response raises the question of what happens when a relatively progressive government sets up a truth commission, and then has to deal with the difficult truth it exposes.

The Commission, set up in 2022 with Royal Commission powers, makes it clear it is required to look at the impact of historical practices in removing indigenous children from their community, and the effect of the “white lens” of child protection and justice systems (at pages 15 and 18). 

The impact of these practices is reflected in, and the need for urgent transformation supported by, the data showing Aboriginal children in comparison to non- aboriginal children, are 

  • 5.7 times more likely to be the subject of a child protection report 
  • 8.5 times more likely to be found in need of protection, and 
  • 21.7 times more likely to be in out of home care (at page 19).

This data is the truth from an indigenous truth and reconciliation commission. It is damning and points to systemic failures. Full implementation of all 46 recommendations in the short timeframe is a matter for debate, but the need for urgent reform is not. 

Humanists Victoria supports and is engaged with the Commission and we ask our members and subscribers to read the report and to consider supporting our Indigenous Justice campaign, as we mobilise support for the Commission and its important work, and work to build the community consensus about justice for first peoples. Contact us for more information.

James Wilson