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Aboriginal self-determination

Self-determination priorities

Aboriginal Victorians, and Indigenous people around the world, have fought for the right to self-determination including the right to make decisions on matters that affect their lives and communities. The right to self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Australia is a signatory.

Self-determination is driven by Aboriginal Victorians, and within this, government has a responsibility to reform its systems, structures and service delivery to better reflect the aspirations of Victorian Aboriginal communities.

The VAAF places self-determination at the heart of strategy across government to improve outcomes and services for Aboriginal Victorians. Based on broad engagement with communities, the new VAAF identified four areas in which government should prioritise action to enable self-determination.

1. Prioritise culture

We acknowledge that connection to family, community, culture and Country is critical to the wellbeing and positive self-identity of Aboriginal Victorians. Cultural identity is a key enabler of achieving positive outcomes and the full enjoyment of the right to practise culture.

2. Address trauma and support healing

We acknowledge the long-lasting, far-reaching and intergenerational consequences of colonisation, dispossession, child removal and other discriminatory government policies, including significant intergenerational trauma. Addressing trauma and supporting healing is important because the wellbeing of Aboriginal people, families and communities is fundamental to how they engage with the structures and systems that support them to thrive.

3. Address racism and promote cultural safety

The structures and systems established during colonisation had the specific intent to exclude Aboriginal people and their laws, customs and traditions, resulting in entrenched systemic and structural racism. Governments as well as Aboriginal and mainstream organisations and services should provide mechanisms and supports for Aboriginal Victorian people, families, communities and organisations to fully participate in policy development. Targeted and universal systems and services must be culturally-safe, relevant, accessible and responsive to communities. This enables Aboriginal Victorians to make decisions on the matters that affect their lives.

4. Transfer power and resources to communities

Aboriginal people know what is best for themselves, their families and communities. We acknowledge the right of Aboriginal Victorians to have decision-making control over the issues that affect their lives. Community-led, place-based decision-making and resourcing at the state and local level will enable Aboriginal communities to lead the development and implementation of culturally-safe and relevant responses. It will also allow Aboriginal communities to hold government, Aboriginal organisations and mainstream services to account.

Embedding self-determination across government

Self-Determination Reform Framework

From 2020, all Victorian government departments will report annually on how they are embedding self-determination in all that they do: their systems, their people, how they work to achieve outcomes and how they stay accountable to Aboriginal Victorians. This will be measured and reported on through the new Self-Determination Reform Framework.

The Self-Determination Reform Framework is based on Aboriginal community-identified priorities in the VAAF. It provides a coordinated approach to how government should enable self-determination and how we should meet our commitments to self-determination.

The Self-Determination Reform Framework focuses the attention of government on what we can do to enable self-determination, ensuring that our everyday work, our policies, our programs and our reforms are culturally-safe and relevant, and are working towards making Aboriginal self-determination a reality.

Starting from next year, reporting against the Self-Determination Reform Framework will be shared in this annual report, reflecting the government’s commitment to increased accountability for its progress towards enabling self-determination.

Aboriginal-led accountability of government

To ensure independent, community-led and resourced accountability of government and government-funded organisations, we have commenced work to develop an Aboriginal-led Evaluation and Review Mechanism.

As committed in the VAAF, the Mechanism will track government’s progress against goals in the VAAF and government action to enable self-determination. In 2019, Aboriginal Victorians provided advice on the most appropriate form and functions of the future Mechanism and explored principles to guide the design of the future Mechanism.

Given potential intersections with the ongoing treaty process and the Aboriginal Representative Body raised during consultations with community, the Mechanism will continue to be developed once the Assembly is established.


Treaty is a practical and tangible way for the Victorian Government and Aboriginal Victorians to work together toward Aboriginal self-determination in Victoria. The treaty process will help to build a positive and sustainable partnership between Aboriginal Victorians and the government based on fairness, equality and mutual respect.

The treaty process advances the Victorian Government’s commitment to self-determination by recognising Aboriginal peoples’ right to freely determine their participation and form of representation in the treaty process and to be the central decision-makers on the matters that affect their lives.

The Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 (Treaty Act) cements the Victorian Government’s commitment to advancing a treaty process with Aboriginal Victorians.

Aboriginal Victorians and Traditional Owners will be represented in the next phase of the treaty process by an Aboriginal Representative Body, to be known as the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria (Assembly).

The Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission, headed by Commissioner Jill Gallagher AO, is charged with establishing the Assembly in consultation with Aboriginal communities across Victoria. The Commissioner, a well-respected Gunditjmara person, is independent of government, further supporting the self-determination of Aboriginal Victorians in the treaty process.

Self-determination and empowerment are enshrined under the Treaty Act as one of several guiding principles for the treaty process. These guiding principles will apply to all participants in the treaty process, including the Assembly, the State, the Treaty Authority, and any person, group or body participating in future treaty negotiations.

The Treaty Act also provides guidance to the Assembly and the State about what a treaty should provide for. The Assembly and the State must ensure that the treaty negotiation framework provides for the negotiation of a treaty or treaties that: help heal the wounds of the past; provide recognition for historic wrongs; address ongoing injustices; support reconciliation; and promote the fundamental human rights of Aboriginal peoples, including the right to self-determination.

Victorian Government action underway to enable self-determination

Formal reporting against the four self-determination enablers in the VAAF will commence in 2020. The Victorian Government is already pursuing several reforms to advance Aboriginal self-determination within its systems and structures. A few case study examples are outlined below.

Funding reform

Current funding arrangements disadvantage and overburden Aboriginal organisations. A key part of transferring power and resources to communities is ensuring transparent, community-led, sustainable, and outcomes-based funding for Aboriginal organisations. The Victorian Government is currently exploring new ways of funding Aboriginal organisations to achieve this. As a first step, government is working collaboratively with five Aboriginal organisations to investigate and test new approaches to funding. In 2019, this project has focused on identifying and developing solutions to address funding issues that affect their organisations, including changes that need to occur within government systems. Over the longer term, the project will develop, test and work towards achieving pooled, outcomes-based funding arrangements and other mechanisms to realise greater self-determination for Aboriginal organisations in relation to budgeting, planning and funding. It is anticipated that new funding arrangements will reduce administrative burden and provide greater flexibility for these organisations to deliver the services that meet the needs of their Aboriginal clients.

Ensuring departments and mainstream services are culturally-safe

The government is prioritising the elimination of systemic and structural racism, discrimination and unconscious bias in recognition that racist and discriminatory policies, structures and services are a significant barrier to Aboriginal self-determination.

As part of this, in 2019 the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has developed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Safety Framework to help the department and mainstream Victorian health, human and community services create culturally-safe environments, services and workplaces.

The Cultural Safety Framework is designed to support individuals and organisations as they reflect and continue their journey of understanding and improving cultural safety in the workplace.

Cultural safety is a key commitment under Korin Korin Balit-Djak: Aboriginal health, wellbeing and safety strategic plan 2017-2027 to achieve the Victorian Government's vision of 'self-determining, healthy and safe Aboriginal communities’, and serves as a reminder that cultural safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Budj Bim Heritage Listing

Acknowledging, maintaining and celebrating Aboriginal cultural heritage is a key part of prioritising culture. In a momentous recognition of self-determination and ingenuity, Budj Bim Cultural Landscape in south west Victoria was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2019, becoming the first Australian site to be internationally recognised exclusively for its Aboriginal cultural values.

This Heritage listing is the result of significant efforts by the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners and the wider Victorian Aboriginal community with the support of the Victorian and Australian governments. This included investment of $13 million from the Victorian Government to protect the area as it develops into a world-class tourism destination, which supports self-determination for the Gunditjmara in sharing the land with the rest of the world.

The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape includes a long dormant volcano, the source of the Tyrendarra lava flow that extends over 50 kilometres and is central to the history of the Gunditjmara. Budj Bim is also home to one of the world’s oldest and largest aquaculture systems and is evidence of a large, settled Aboriginal community systemically harvesting and smoking eels for food and trade.

The system includes weirs, dams and stone channels some hundreds of metres long and dug out of basalt lava flow which has been carbon dated to a remarkable 6,600 years old. Budj Bim also features the remains of more than 300 round, basalt stone houses, further evidence of the Gunditjmara’s permanent settlement in the area.

Shared decision-making to progress the national Closing the Gap agenda

In June 2019, Victoria signed the Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap 2019-2029 (Partnership Agreement) between COAG and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (Coalition of Peaks).

The 10-year agreement is an historic arrangement. It supports formal, shared decision making between Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Peak Organisations on Closing the Gap. The Partnership Agreement was an initiative driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies from across Australia, including Victoria’s Aboriginal Executive Council.

The Coalition of Peaks comprises 49 national, state and territory non-government Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander peak bodies and certain independent statutory bodies. The Coalition of Peaks provides important, sector-specific expertise and leadership that is essential to discussions and negotiations under the Partnership Agreement.

The Victorian Government is working closely with all governments and the Coalition of Peaks to develop and finalise a new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. It is important that this work at the national level complements our work to progress treaty and enable self-determination at the state level.

Victorian Government Investment

The Victorian Government has continued to make significant investment to improve services and outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians and to ensure Aboriginal Victorians are supported to make decisions about their own lives, communities and futures.

The 2019/20 Victorian Budget invested $109 million over four years, building on the 2018/19 investment of $115 million over four years, to progress treaty and self-determination, to prioritise and celebrate Aboriginal culture and to support Aboriginal Victorians through frontline service delivery.

$30.4 million over 2 years to progress the next steps of treaty in 2019/20, including the establishment of the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, supporting Traditional Owner readiness for treaty, and ensuring that Aboriginal Victorians are at the centre of decision-making when preparing for treaty negotiations. This builds on the $9 million for progressing treaty in the 2018/19 Victorian Budget.

$40.3 million in 2018/19 to implement Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, the fourth phase of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement, a long-term partnership between the Aboriginal community and the Victorian Government. This includes investment in a range of community-led self-determination initiatives such as expanding the Aboriginal Community Justice Panels across the state, expanding Koori Courts model, and expanding the Statewide Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community Program.

$53.3 million over 4 years in 2018/19 as part of Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children in Families Agreement, the first ever tripartite agreement between the Aboriginal community, child and family services sector and the Victorian Government. This funding is supporting the Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care program and initiatives to improve cultural connection for Aboriginal young people in care.

$28.8 million over 4 years in 2019/20 to continue implementing the Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way: Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families, Aboriginal 10 Year Family Violence Agreement. This includes funding to continue establishing Aboriginal Orange Door access points and frontline Aboriginal family violence services, working towards realising Dhelk Dja’s vision: Aboriginal people are culturally strong, safe and self-determining, with families and communities living free from violence.

$14 million per year for 10 years from 2017/18 to support Korin Korin Balit-Djak: Aboriginal health, wellbeing and safety strategic plan 2017-2027. This funding is supporting the collaborative action between DHHS, Aboriginal communities, community organisations, other government departments and mainstream service providers to improve the health, wellbeing and safety of Aboriginal people in Victoria.

In addition to these significant investments, the Victorian Government has funded a range of frontline services in 2018/19 and 2019/20 to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians, including:

  • Continuing the successful Koori Women's Place, providing a culturally-safe space where women facing the challenges of family violence can come together and feel supported, heard and understood.
  • Strengthening Aboriginal children’s connection with family, culture and community through a new model of kinship care, including an Aboriginal kinship finding service.
  • Continuing Aboriginal mental health projects, supporting Aboriginal Victorians with severe mental illness, trauma and other needs.
  • Expanding culturally-safe sexual assault support services to meet the specific needs of Aboriginal communities.

We have invested heavily in the strength of Aboriginal youth, communities and organisations, including through:

  • Developing the Munarra Centre for Regional Excellence in Shepparton, a new educational, sporting, cultural and community centre for local Aboriginal people.
  • Supporting Aboriginal organisations to deliver targeted youth mentoring programs which support and empower Aboriginal young people.
  • Increasing employment and business opportunities for Aboriginal Victorians in natural resource management across government organisations.

There has also been significant investment in Aboriginal cultural initiatives, including:

  • Continuing delivery of an accredited Aboriginal languages program and supporting Aboriginal languages in schools and kindergartens.
  • Investing in intensive land and natural resource management, including dedicated Traditional Owner ranger positions, to encourage visitors and improve biodiversity at Kalimna Park and Greater Bendigo National Park.
  • Supporting Victorian Traditional Owners groups as they work towards formal recognition.
  • Establishing a Joint Management Committee including Traditional Owners, state and local government to ensure a partnership approach to implementing the Hanging Rock Strategic Plan.
  • Supporting Aboriginal events and festivals across the state and providing more opportunities for Aboriginal Victorians to work in the creative industries.