A new way of reporting
In 2018, the Victorian Government worked with Victorian Aboriginal communities and organisations to develop a new VAAF that would set an ambitious and forward‐looking agenda for Aboriginal affairs.
The development of the new VAAF signified a meaningful shift, one that embedded government’s commitment to Aboriginal self-determination. This commitment acknowledges that the best outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians are achieved when policies and programs are led and guided by the knowledge and expertise of Aboriginal people.
The journey of transferring power, decision-making and resources back to Aboriginal communities is at an early stage. The Victorian Aboriginal community told government that they want the future agenda to be strengths-based and to demonstrate and celebrate the unique strengths and achievements of Victorian Aboriginal communities.
Community members also told government that we must move away from previous approaches focused on gaps, deficits and laying individual blame, and instead focus on the significant shift required across government systems, services, policies and broader society to improve outcomes and opportunities for Aboriginal people.
The VAAF frames the understanding of, and response to, Aboriginal disadvantage by acknowledging the impact of dispossession of Aboriginal people that occurred from European colonisation and its ongoing intergenerational impacts.
This report provides the first progress report on the Victorian Government’s commitment to embed self‑determination across all areas of the government, through the Self-Determination Reform Framework. Consistent with this, these annual reports will no longer focus solely on how Aboriginal people are faring, but will aim to hold government accountable for what we are doing to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians and enable self‑determination.
Positive change requires not only a fundamental shift in the way that governments work with Aboriginal people, it also requires significant government effort to eliminate the structural and systemic barriers experienced by Aboriginal Victorians, including ensuring services and programs are culturally-safe and community-led.
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.
The Victorian Government's commitment to ongoing self-determination reform
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 must be 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 and enable self-determination.
Importantly, enabling Aboriginal self-determination takes time, and government must listen to, and be led by Aboriginal Victorians. We would not be where we are today, working in partnership with community towards treaty, without the tireless efforts and activism of Aboriginal Victorians, who fought for the right to make decisions on the matters that affect their lives and communities, and continue to fight for these rights today.
The 2019-20 Victorian bushfires were exceptional in their size and impact, with more than 1,500,000 hectares of burnt area across Victoria. The extent of the fires has significantly impacted Victorian Aboriginal communities, particularly in the Gippsland and Ovens Valley regions, which have been further compounded by the impacts of coronavirus.
Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by the impact of fires due to existing structural and financial inequalities, a backdrop of historical and intergenerational trauma, and the significant impacts that bushfires and bushfire protection has on Country and cultural heritage.
In the early stage of recovery efforts, Aboriginal communities in Gippsland rapidly mobilised to form a community-led Bushfire Recovery Aboriginal Reference Group. This group has ensured Aboriginal needs and priorities are considered in statewide bushfire recovery efforts, including through Bushfire Recovery Victoria’s (BRV) Advisory Council.
Across 2020, the Reference Group focused on several priority areas, including: ensuring culturally informed and holistic healing of Country, caring for elders and carers, cultural heritage restoration, rebuilding community infrastructure, resourcing support for the Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation (ACCO) sector, financial relief for Aboriginal individuals and families and supporting Aboriginal employment and enterprise. These priorities have informed BRV’s Bushfire Recovery Framework and State Plan.
To support these efforts, the Victorian Government is providing $3.5 million over 2020-21 to support Aboriginal communities to recover, and work is underway to support longer term funding. This includes funding for the ACCO-led Bushfire Recovery Program, delivered through the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative Ltd (GEGAC). The Program delivers services to community members impacted by bushfires in northern and eastern Victoria.
Government has also supported urgent bushfire mitigation works at Lake Tyers Aboriginal Community, and played a support role during three evacuation processes, including by widely disseminating culturally accessible bushfire warnings during the disaster period.
Bushfire recovery work is ongoing – healing community and Country will take time. The Victorian Government will continue to support the important role of Aboriginal people in the recovery process, as well as rely on Aboriginal knowledge and expertise in bushfire prevention and management of our state.
The coronavirus pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on all Victorians, including the livelihoods of Aboriginal Victorians. ACCOs have played a critical role in providing culturally safe frontline responses during the pandemic, including through the provision of clinical testing, outreach and emergency relief. They have also been crucial in providing urgent legal, medical and community care for Aboriginal families across the state, including those in the public housing towers’ hard lockdowns.
Early on it was recognised that there was a need for a comprehensive, coordinated and culturally safe response to coronavirus impacts on Aboriginal Victorians. An Aboriginal Community COVID-19 Taskforce (Taskforce) was established in March 2020 comprising of leaders from government departments and Aboriginal organisations. The Taskforce’s work was informed by the Taskforce Data Dashboard to ensure stakeholders had clear visibility and evidence of coronavirus impacts to adjust responses accordingly. Government also supported ACCOs to deliver essential services through the pandemic by prioritising ACCOs on the same level as hospitals to receive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), in recognition that coronavirus poses increased health risks to Aboriginal people if infected.
The taskforce has also been instrumental in developing and driving response and recovery planning, including the Statewide COVID-19 Aboriginal Response Action Plan and the Aboriginal-specific outbreak management plan.
To ensure the Victorian Government’s coronavirus response was informed by, and responsive to, the needs of Aboriginal communities at the local level, Local Aboriginal COVID-19 Response Networks (Networks) were rapidly established. The Networks have been critical in leveraging the local Aboriginal Victorian Public Service (VPS) workforces, and providing a single point of contact for local communities to raise issues and seek referral points from government contacts in relation to the coronavirus response.
Government also worked closely with Aboriginal organisations and trusted community voices to roll out culturally appropriate, Aboriginal-specific coronavirus communications on social and traditional media. In particular, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and 3KND Kool 'N' Deadly radio station have both been critical in disseminating culturally appropriate public health messaging.
The First Peoples’ COVID-19 Business Support Fund was launched in November 2020 in partnership with Kinaway Chamber of Commerce to support Victorian Aboriginal businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 trading restrictions. Grants of up to $10,000 have been used by recipients for a range of business needs including meeting rent and salary costs and pivoting to online sales. The program provided $1.277 million in grants to 130 Aboriginal-owned businesses across Victoria.
Recognising the need for a holistic budget response, in June 2020, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs announced a $23 million COVID-19 Response and Recovery package for the Aboriginal community. This included funding for ACCOs to support outreach educational efforts, homelessness officers, IT capability uplift, clinical support and patient transport. Funding was also provided to Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) to support them to undertake their cultural heritage work remotely.
A $10 million COVID-19 Aboriginal Community Response and Recovery Fund was also established through this package to support Aboriginal communities to develop local, culturally safe responses to coronavirus impacts. Funding was provided across four categories, including: outreach and brokerage; emergency relief; social and emotional wellbeing; and cultural strengthening. The Fund has supported Aboriginal individuals, and small, medium and large organisations across the state, and project evaluations will also contribute to building the self-determination evidence base.
Across 2020, the lockdowns and broader economic effects of the pandemic had a significant impact on the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal Victorians. In 2020-21, government provided $1.5 million to VACCHO to support the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal communities during the pandemic and into the post-pandemic recovery phase. As a consequence of this, and the strong Aboriginal-led community response, all cases contracted by Aboriginal people were contained and there has been no outbreak of coronavirus within community.
ACCO leadership was essential in achieving low transmission rates among Aboriginal Victorians. To ensure this same expertise is embedded in long-term responses, many ACCOs form part of the Victorian Aboriginal Social Recovery Advisory Group and will be eligible to share in $40 million in funding through the Aboriginal Workforce Fund. This reflects government’s recognition of the critical role ACCOs play and the importance of appropriate resourcing to build their capacity to support community now and into the future.
Yoo-rrook Justice Commission
In July 2020, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Assembly) and the Victorian Government announced a committment to a truth and justice process to formally recognise historic wrongs, and past and ongoing injustices against Aboriginal Victorians. This process, which will be led by the independent Yoo-rrook Justice Commission (Commission) means Victoria will be the first and only jurisdiction in our nation to institute a formal truth-telling forum.
Aboriginal Victorians have been clear and consistent in their call for truth-telling as an essential part of the treaty process. In particular, the Assembly formally called for a truth and justice process through a resolution of its Chamber in June 2020.
In response to this call, the government worked in partnership with the Assembly to develop the Commission’s terms of reference and how the process will work. The terms of reference set out the form, purpose, scope and operations of the Commission, which reflect Victoria’s unique history, institutions and cultures. Partnering with the Assembly has ensured that the voices of Aboriginal Victorians are at the centre of truth and justice efforts.
The Victorian Government’s commitment to truth and justice reaffirms Victoria’s leadership in Aboriginal affairs, making Victoria the first and only Australian jurisdiction to action the ‘treaty’ and ‘truth’ elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Commission will operate in parallel to Victoria’s treaty process, to ensure the momentum of the treaty process is maintained. A treaty or treaties in Victoria can 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.
The Commission can support the treaty process, by providing an opportunity for Aboriginal Victorians and non-Aboriginal Victorians to acknowledge our shared history and lay the foundations for new relationships and a shared future.
The Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 (Treaty Act) – Australia’s first treaty legislation – cements the Victorian Government’s commitment to advancing a treaty process with Aboriginal Victorians.
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 framework for ongoing relationships between Aboriginal Victorians and the State of Victoria 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.
Victoria is currently in Phase 2 of a three-phase treaty process. Phase 1 of the process included the passage of the Treaty Act and the appointment of the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner to lead engagement with Aboriginal Victorians on treaty and establish a representative body for Aboriginal Victorians.
Phase 2 of the treaty process commenced in December 2019, following the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’ declaration of the Assembly as the Aboriginal Representative Body, in accordance with the Treaty Act. As the Aboriginal Representative Body, the Assembly is the sole representative of Aboriginal Victorians for the purpose of working with the State to establish by agreement the elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations: a Treaty Authority, treaty negotiation framework, self-determination fund, and a dispute resolution process for Phase 2 (treaty elements). Once the treaty elements are in place, Phase 3 treaty negotiations can commence. The 2019/20 Victorian Budget provided $11.046 million over two years to support the Assembly’s involvement in Phase 2.
Work is underway inside government to drive the change required for the Victorian Government to participate in treaty discussions with the Assembly as a model treaty partner. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is the coordinating minister for treaty. In this role, the Minister leads engagement with the Assembly on behalf of the State and oversees whole of government participation in treaty discussions. A Treaty Interdepartmental Committee, comprised of a senior representative from each department, operates to share information among departments and provide advice on procedural and substantive issues relevant to the treaty process.
In addition to discussions with the Assembly to establish the treaty elements, the Victorian Government is supporting Aboriginal Victorians to participate in the treaty process and prepare for future treaty negotiations.
Closing the Gap
On 30 July 2020, the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (National Agreement) came into effect.
The National Agreement is the product of a true partnership between the Commonwealth, all states and territories, the Australian Local Government Association and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak Organisations (Coalition of Peaks).
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. Victoria’s representative on the Coalition of Peaks is the Aboriginal Executive Council (AEC).
The National Agreement represents a new way for all governments to work with Aboriginal Australians. It is the first time an agreement at the national level has been signed with a third party, and it formalises a ten-year partnership between governments and Aboriginal people. This is in recognition of the fact that Aboriginal voices must lead the way to improved outcomes for Aboriginal people.
It was developed following extensive engagement with Aboriginal communities across Australia. In Victoria, the government worked with AEC to hold consultations in Melbourne, Bendigo and Morwell.
Unlike previous Closing the Gap agreements, the National Agreement goes beyond numeric targets to include four priority reform areas:
- shared decision-making between Aboriginal communities and governments
- strengthening the Aboriginal community-controlled sector
- improving government organisations
- shared access to data and information.
The Victorian Government has made an initial investment of $3.3 million to strengthen the Aboriginal community-controlled sector.
The National Agreement also includes 16 socioeconomic targets that track jurisdictional progress toward improving outcomes for Aboriginal people and communities across Australia.
Many of these targets align with measures already included in the VAAF, with Victoria working toward more ambitious targets in key areas such as justice, economic prosperity and health. Reporting on Closing the Gap targets will begin in 2021 and be included in the next VGAAR.
Victoria's state plan for Closing the Gap is the VAAF, which was developed with Aboriginal Victorians in 2018. It will guide Victoria's implementation plan for the National Agreement, which will be developed in partnership with Victorian Aboriginal stakeholders within the next 12 months.
Victoria's implementation plan will represent a truly cross-portfolio approach to Aboriginal affairs, with all government ministers assuming responsibility for its delivery. Action under the National Agreement will complement our nation-leading commitment to treaty and Aboriginal self-determination.
Stolen Generations Reparations
Following years of advocacy from Stolen Generations members, their families, and the broader Victorian Aboriginal community, on 18 March 2020, the Victorian Government announced the establishment of Stolen Generations Reparations. The purpose of the scheme is to acknowledge and address the harm of past Victorian governments in the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families, the impacts of which continue to be felt today.
The Victorian Government is committed to Stolen Generations Reparations being operational in 2021, with its design being entirely led by Stolen Generations and their families. Redress may include direct compensation payments, truth-telling, support for applicants and a funeral or memorial fund.
The Stolen Generations Reparations Steering Committee (Steering Committee) is leading community engagement on the design of the scheme.
The Steering Committee consists of Stolen Generations and family members, and 4 key Stolen Generations support organisations:
- Connecting Home Limited
- Koorie Heritage Trust
- Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
Victorian Government Investment
The 2020/21 Victorian Budget provided a record investment of $356.5 million over 4 years to support Aboriginal Victorians, progress treaty and further Aboriginal self-determination.
This represents a significant commitment by the Victorian Government to provide appropriate support to the Aboriginal community and take genuine steps towards Aboriginal self-determination and treaty.
This includes a record investment in ACCOs and in community‑led responses, including:
- $20.2 million over three years to support community aspirations for Victoria’s treaty and truth and justice processes
- $10.0 million over two years to progress development of Stolen Generations Reparations
- $40.0 million over two years for a service delivery fund for ACCOs and ACCHOs
- $20.2 million over two years to enable economic recovery and development through increasing the capacity of Traditional Owner Groups across the state to enhance their ability to process heritage approvals and exercise their related procedural rights
- $4.4 million in 2020-21 to continue support for lapsing Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing programs and to commence design of a new Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Centre
- $7.5 million over two years to support delivery of Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2023 to improve the educational outcomes of Koorie students in Victoria
- $11.8 million over four years for Aboriginal community-led responses within the youth justice system including demand reduction initiatives to establish and expand programs and supports to help reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system.
Reviewed 30 June 2021