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Outcomes: establishing a truth and justice process

This process means Victoria is the first and only jurisdiction in our nation to institute a formal truth-telling forum.

In July 2020, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Assembly) and the Victorian Government announced a commitment to a truth and justice process to formally recognise historic wrongs and past and ongoing injustices against Aboriginal Victorians. This process, led by the independent Yoo-rrook Justice Commission (Commission), means Victoria is the first and only jurisdiction in our nation to institute a formal truth-telling forum.

For generations Aboriginal communities from across Victoria have been clear and consistent in their calls for truth-telling as an essential part of the treaty process. In June 2020, at its third Chamber meeting, the Assembly renewed these calls by passing a resolution seeking commitment from the State to establish a truth and justice process.

In response, in July 2020 the Victorian Government committed to working with the Assembly to formally establish a truth and justice process in line with provisions in the Treaty Act to recognise historic wrongs, address ongoing injustices and help heal the wounds of the past. The State and the Assembly agreed to develop the terms of reference for a truth and justice process in parallel to negotiations on the treaty elements.

The Victorian Government’s partnership with the Assembly ensured that the voices of Aboriginal Victorians drove the development of Victoria’s truth and justice process. The process also incorporated advice from international experts on best-practice in truth telling, such as the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Mary Hoch Centre for Reconciliation.

Establishment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission

Following 11 months of extensive work between the Assembly and the Victorian Government, the Commission was established on 12 May 2021 by letters patent issued under the Inquiries Act 2014 (Inquiries Act) as the nation’s first truth-telling commission. ‘Yoo-rrook’ is the Wemba Wemba / Wamba Wamba word for ‘truth’. By establishing the Commission, the State has committed to formally reckoning with past and ongoing injustices and laying the foundations for healing with all First Peoples in Victoria.

Appointment of Commissioners

The Commission’s nation-leading work is being led by five Commissioners: Professor Eleanor Bourke as Chairperson, and Dr Wayne Atkinson, Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell QC AM, Sue-Anne Hunter and Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter as Commissioners. Of the five Commissioners, four are Aboriginal, of whom three are Victorian Traditional Owners and two are Elders. The Commissioners carry knowledge and experience across the fields of law, sociology and systemic disadvantage, land rights, history, trauma and healing. As a group, the Commissioners collectively possess the strength and diversity of skills to lead the ground-breaking work of the Commission.

The Commissioners were selected through a process that aligned with international best practice in truth-telling. The selection of the Commissioners was informed by recommendations made by a four-person Independent Assessment Panel (Panel) who conducted an open and transparent Expression of Interest, public comment and interview process. The Panel comprised four panellists nominated by the Assembly, the Victorian Government and the ICTJ.

Scope and purpose of the Commission

The Commission’s inquiry will explore both historic and contemporary injustices experienced by First Peoples across all areas of social, political and economic life, and the intrinsic relationship between historical injustices and ongoing contemporary systemic injustices experienced today.

The Commission will engage Victoria’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community to achieve its aim of truth-telling, educating the wider Victorian community and making recommendations for reform. At the heart of the process will be to develop a shared narrative of the true impact of colonisation, founded on First Peoples' voices.

Based on international truth-telling experiences, the breadth of the Commission and focus on systemic elements will be critical to ensuring the broad objectives of the Commission are achieved.

While the Commission has been established like other Royal Commissions under the Inquiries Act, it will be unlike any other Royal Commission or inquiry conducted in Australia as it has been developed in conjunction with Aboriginal Victorians through the Assembly and has a fundamentally unique purpose.

The Victorian Government has committed to being proactive, transparent and genuine in its engagement with and response to the Commission. This approach will be critical for the State to best support the Commission to achieve its objectives.

The Commission’s interim report is due 30 June 2022 and its final report on 30 June 2024.

The Commission’s intersection with treaty

The development of a truth-telling process has taken place in parallel with the treaty process to ensure that treaty is underpinned by a commitment to truth. The Commission may also make recommendations to provide appropriate redress for systemic injustices that should be specifically designed and effectively implemented through the treaty process, particularly where such redress is not already available to First Peoples, and, recommendations about particular subject matters that should be included in a treaty or treaties with the State.

Pursuing a truth-telling process alongside treaty affirms Victoria’s leadership in Aboriginal affairs, making Victoria the first and only Australian jurisdiction to action both the treaty and truth elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Victorian Government is committed to acknowledging the truth of Victoria’s history and laying the foundations for new, positive relationships between the State, Aboriginal Victorians, and non-Aboriginal Victorians.