Acknowledgement of Country, language statement, forewords and purpose of the report.
We proudly acknowledge the First Peoples of Victoria and their ongoing strength in practicing the world’s oldest living culture. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands and waters on which we live and work and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.
Victorian Traditional Owners maintain that their sovereignty has never been ceded. Since time immemorial, Victorian Traditional Owners have practiced their laws, customs and languages, and nurtured Country through their spiritual, material and economic connections to land, water and resources.
We acknowledge that while Aboriginal Victorians are strong in their culture and identity, there are long-lasting, far-reaching and intergenerational consequences of colonisation and dispossession. The reality of colonisation involved the establishment of laws and policies with the specific intent of excluding Aboriginal people and their laws, customs, cultures and traditions. We acknowledge that the impact and structures of colonisation still exist today.
Finally, we acknowledge the invaluable contributions of all those who have paved the way and fought for the rights of Aboriginal people, including the right to self-determination. We also recognise the ongoing contribution of Aboriginal people and communities to Victorian life and how this continues to enrich our society more broadly. Through the strength, resilience and pride of Aboriginal Victorians, their cultures, communities and economies endure and continue to grow and thrive today.
We recognise the diversity of Aboriginal people living throughout Victoria. While the terms ‘Koorie’ or ‘Koori’ are commonly used by Aboriginal people of Southeast Australia, we have used the term Aboriginal in this report to include all people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who are living in Victoria – with the exception of specific programs and frameworks with Koori in the title.
The use of the words ‘our’ and ‘we’ throughout this document refers to the Victorian Government.
Message from the Acting Premier
This year's Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Report again reveals a complex reality.
Within its pages, the deep structural and societal injustices First Nations people continue to confront – and their remarkable strength and survival in the face of it all.
Measuring our progress and setbacks is no simple task. The inequalities communities face are both compounded and contemporary.
And as this report shows, there’s still a long way to go.
At the same time, we know that our progress cannot only be quantitative – it must be qualitative too.
That means it must be for Aboriginal people and led by Aboriginal people.
That includes our historic journey towards treaty.
Led by the voices of Aboriginal communities – and enshrined in law – we’ve already delivered on those first steps, establishing the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.
Now we're ready to take the next important step on this journey.
Our nation’s first formal truth-telling forum, the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission is long overdue. But its work is perhaps more important than ever.
Because without truth – there can be no treaty.
And only by reconciling with our past can we reach for a more just, more equal, more decent future – for all Victorians.
The Hon. James Merlino MP
Acting Premier of Victoria
Message from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs
I am honoured in my role as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to present the Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report 2020.
2020 was an incredibly challenging year for all Victorians, including Victorian Aboriginal communities.
During, and in the aftermath of the devastating 2019-20 bushfires, Aboriginal communities, particularly in East Gippsland, have showed considerable strength and resilience. I commend the important ongoing work that communities are undertaking to support the holistic healing of Country, restore cultural heritage, rebuild community infrastructure and drive economic recovery. These destructive fires have reinforced that now, more than ever before, we must be guided by Aboriginal traditional knowledge and practices with respect to Caring for Country.
Aboriginal organisations and community leaders should also be commended for their exceptional, proactive efforts to mobilise and respond to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on their communities. These efforts have saved countless lives. In particular, the COVID-19 Aboriginal Community Taskforce (Taskforce) and Local Aboriginal COVID-19 Response Networks were instrumental in driving comprehensive, coordinated and culturally safe responses and recovery efforts. As a result, Aboriginal organisations were able to rapidly adapt to remote service delivery and ensure that clients continued to have access to services throughout the pandemic.
Despite these challenges, there were many achievements to celebrate in 2020. This included work to establish Stolen Generations Reparations to right historic wrongs, and progressing work with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria to support future treaty negotiations.
2020 also set the groundwork for establishing a truth and justice process to investigate both historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians, across all areas of social, political, cultural and economic life. The announcement of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, the first of its kind anywhere in Australia, represents a significant step forward on Victoria’s path towards treaty. Truth-telling recognises the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people and will ensure their voices are heard and respected.
This Report tells us that while government has come some way in addressing racism and discrimination in its systems and structures, there is still a long way to go. We are committed to this journey, which will bring together our commitments in the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and our nation-leading efforts in treaty, truth and justice.
I thank all Aboriginal Elders, Stolen Generations members and families, community members and Aboriginal organisations who have long pushed for these reforms and are now seeing them come to life. As government takes heed of their calls and supports Aboriginal-led decision making, we must ensure that truth-telling, recognition of past wrongs and a focus on a better future for all Victorians is central to this work.
The Hon. Gabrielle Williams
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
Purpose of this report
The purpose of the Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report (Report) is to outline progress towards achieving the vision of the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2018‑2023 (VAAF):
‘…that all Aboriginal Victorian people, families and communities are safe, resilient, thriving and living culturally rich lives.’
The report is intended to keep government accountable for improving outcomes for and with Aboriginal Victorians, as well as ongoing work to progress Aboriginal self-determination.
The report sets out how government is working with community to realise the VAAF’s 20 goals across 6 domains:
- Children, family and home
- Learning and skills
- Opportunity and prosperity
- Health and wellbeing
- Justice and safety
- Culture and Country.
For the first time, this report also outlines government’s progress against the VAAF’s 4 self-determination enablers:
- prioritise culture
- address trauma and support healing
- address racism and promote cultural safety
- transfer power and resources to communities.
The report provides a snapshot of how government is embedding self-determination within its systems, processes and services, guided by the Self-Determination Reform Framework.
This report provides community and government with valuable information that allows us to monitor outcomes across all areas of life, as well as the challenges that we still need to address.
Summary of key outcomes in the Report
Key themes include family, learning and skills, opportunity and prosperity, health and wellbeing, justice and safety, culture and Country.
Children, family and home
- Immunisation rates for Aboriginal children continue to increase and are the highest they have ever been. 96.8% of Aboriginal 5 year olds were immunised in 2018, which is higher than the rate of all Victorian 5 year olds (95.5%).
- Perinatal mortality rates for babies born to Aboriginal mothers has dropped significantly over the last decade, from 23.6 per 1,000 in 2008-10 to 11.5 per 1000 in 2016-18 (per 1,000). However, the rate is still higher than for non-Aboriginal mothers.
- Aboriginal children remain over-represented in care at more than 20 times the rate of non-Aboriginal children. The increase in numbers is partly due to changes in data collection methodology, including improved identification and recording of Aboriginal status. Nonetheless, these figures are concerning. However, there have been substantial increases in the number of Aboriginal children in care who are placed with relatives, kin and/or Aboriginal carers and the number of Aboriginal children and young people on contractible orders managed by ACCOs.
Learning and skills
- There have been substantial improvements in NAPLAN literacy and numeracy areas for Aboriginal students. The percentage of Aboriginal students in the top three bands for NAPLAN Reading increased from 2008 to 2019 for all years (3, 5, 7 and 9). The percentage of Aboriginal students in the top three bands in NAPLAN numeracy increased across Years 5, 7, and 9 during the same period.
- In line with the Victorian Government’s commitment to increase the number of Aboriginal language programs in kindergartens and schools, in 2019, 17 government schools were teaching an Aboriginal language. This is a significant improvement from 2010, when only one school offered an Aboriginal language program.
- With a 99.9% enrolment rate, Aboriginal children are enrolled in kindergarten in the year before school at near universal level. However, Aboriginal students’ school attendance rates have decreased across all years of schooling from 2014-2019. The impact of COVID-19 has further exacerbated the existing disparity in school attendance rate between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cohort.
Opportunity and prosperity
- The Aboriginal business sector continues to thrive, contributing to growth in economic prosperity for Aboriginal Victorians and the wider State. The number of Aboriginal businesses that the Victorian government entered into a purchase agreement with increased by 35% in the past 12 months.
- Under the Jobs Victoria Employment Network (JVEN) program, the Victorian Government funded several training and employment linkage programs to support Aboriginal jobseekers. In 2019, 303 Aboriginal jobseekers secured JVEN placements, which is 24.1% higher than the previous year.
- In 2019, Aboriginal people on Victorian Government boards increased by 15.4%, which contributed to the goal of increasing Aboriginal leadership and representation across all sectors and levels.
Health and wellbeing
- Aboriginal Victorians are living longer, and there are growing rates of individuals reporting that they have excellent or very good health. During the period 2017-19, 44.5% of Aboriginal Victorians rated their own health as 'excellent' or 'very good' compared to 36.9 per cent in 2014-15.
- Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia. While the proportion of Aboriginal Victorians who smoke daily is still high (36% in 2017-19), there has been a long-term downward trend in daily smoking (down from 47% in 2004–05).
- In the five-year period 2013-17 inclusive, the incidence rate (per 10,000) of cancer in Aboriginal women decreased slightly from 498.5 to 494.6 in the previous five-year cycle.
- In 2018-19, Aboriginal Victorians of all ages presented at hospital emergency departments for self-harm related reasons at a rate 5 times higher than non-Aboriginal Victorians. Similarly, Aboriginal Victorians accessing community mental health care services was 3.5 times higher than non-Aboriginal Victorians.
Justice and safety
- Aboriginal Victorians remain over-represented in both the adult and youth justice systems. In 2019-20, Aboriginal young people (10-17 years) were almost six times more likely to be processed by police as alleged offenders than the non-Aboriginal cohort. During the same period, Aboriginal women were nearly 11 times and men were 6 times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to be processed by police for an alleged offence.
- While Aboriginal young people remain over-represented in the youth justice system, there has been some recent decline in the average daily number and rate of Aboriginal young people under youth justice community-based supervision. Between 2008-09 and 2018-19, the average daily number of Aboriginal young people (10-17 years) under youth justice community-based supervision dropped from 112 to 89.
- Since 2007-08, the number of Aboriginal people employed across the justice system has increased significantly. The proportion of Aboriginal people employed across DJCS and Court Services Victoria now exceeds the public sector target of 2% by 2022, while Aboriginal cultural safety training continues to be rolled out across Victoria Police with 15.5% of police officers having received Aboriginal cultural training as at 30 June 2020.
Culture and Country
- In 2019-20, native title is recognised across 14,899 square kilometres of land in Victoria. A further 50,976 square kilometres of land is recognised under Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 agreements, which is a significant increase from 30,766 square kilometres in 2018-19.
- The Victorian Government has committed to advancing treaty with Aboriginal Victorians as an essential step in enabling self-determination. In July 2020, the Victorian Government also committed to a truth and justice process to formally recognise past wrongs and address ongoing injustices experienced by Aboriginal Victorians. This process, which will be led by the independent Yoo-rrook Justice Commission (Commission), will be the first of its kind anywhere in Australia and represents a significant step forward on Victoria’s path towards treaty.
Embedding self-determination across government, treaty and government investment.
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.
Children, family and home
Encouraging Aboriginal children and families to be strong in culture and proud of their unique identity can ensure that every Aboriginal child has the best start in life.
Our shared commitment
All Aboriginal children and young people are safe, resilient, thriving and living in culturally rich, strong Aboriginal families and communities.
Families, communities, and Aboriginal child-rearing practices are fundamental to raising strong Aboriginal children and young people. Supporting Aboriginal families to access safe and effective services enables better outcomes.
Encouraging Aboriginal children and families to be strong in culture and proud of their unique identity can ensure that every Aboriginal child has the best start in life.
This means ensuring Aboriginal children and families have access to culturally appropriate services throughout pregnancy and early childhood, and reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in care.
Goal 1: Aboriginal children are born healthy and thrive
1.1 Improve maternal and infant health
- 1.1.1 Rate of low birth weight.
- 1.1.2 Rate of preterm birth.
- 1.1.3 Rate of perinatal mortality.
- 1.1.4 Smoking during pregnancy.
In 2018, 12.1% of babies of Aboriginal mothers were born with a low birth weight, which decreased from 15.2% in 2009. In comparison, only 6.9% of babies of non-Aboriginal mothers were born with low birth weight in 2018
In 2018, 12.4% of babies of Aboriginal mothers were born preterm compared to 14.5% in 2009. The gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal rate of preterm birth decreased slightly during this period and was 3.9% in 2018.
The rate of Aboriginal perinatal mortality in 2016-18 was 11.5 per 1,000, which is significantly lower than 2007-09 level (23.1 per 1,000). During the same period, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perinatal mortality rate dropped from 10.4 to 2.8 (per 1,000).
In 2018, 38.9% of Aboriginal women smoked during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, which remained similar to 2009 (40.2%). The rate of smoking during pregnancy was 5 times higher for Aboriginal women compared to non-Aboriginal women in 2018.
1.2 Children thrive in their first 1000 days
- 1.2.1 Participation rates for Maternal and Child Health Key Ages and Stages Consultations.
- 1.2.2 Attendance at Koori Maternity Service.
- 1.2.3 Immunisation rates at 24 months and 60 months.
- 1.2.4 Participation in facilitated playgroups (0-5 years).
Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health services
Participation rates for Maternal and Child Health Key Ages and Stages Consultations have generally increased year to year. In 2017–18, participation at the first home visit consultation was near universal for Aboriginal families. Significant increases in participation has been shown for Aboriginal children over time for the eight-month, 12-month, 2-year and 3.5-year consultations. However, participation has tended to decline for all families over time, particularly after the four-month visit.
There is still more work to be done to achieve the participation rates of non-Aboriginal children. The Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health program aims to do so by focussing on provision of integrated, coordinated and culturally-safe services to mothers and their babies.
The Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health program
In October 2020, 6 Aboriginal organisations were announced as new providers for Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health services. They join 4 existing Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health service providers that were part of a trial which commenced in 2017, reaching more Aboriginal children and families across the state.
The Aboriginal Maternal and Child Health program strengthens self-determination by enabling Aboriginal organisations to meet the health, safety and wellbeing needs of their local Aboriginal communities. The program delivers deliver better health outcomes for Aboriginal families by offering them access to culturally safe, flexible Maternal and Child Health services at their local Aboriginal organisation or ACCO. It also strengthens the relationships between mainstream Maternal and Child Health providers and Aboriginal organisations as they work together to provide integrated, coordinated support to the Aboriginal community.
Koori Maternity Services
In 2018-19, 485 women attended a Koori Maternity Service (KMS) to access maternity care from a midwife and/or an Aboriginal health worker. Due to an update of the KMS minimum dataset in 2018, it is not possible to compare 2018-19 KMS participation data to previous years.
Koori Maternity Services deliver culturally appropriate care for Aboriginal women and women having Aboriginal babies, and their families, across 14 sites in Victoria, including three in public hospitals.
Koori Maternity Services are an integral component of Victoria’s maternity service system working in partnership with women, families and the local community to ensure that service delivery is culturally safe, responsive and meets the unique needs of individuals and community.
The role of Koori Maternity Services include caring for women, babies and their families during pregnancy, birthing and postnatally. This continues to be critical to improving outcomes and increasing participation in maternity care for Aboriginal women, babies and families.
Immunisation rates for Aboriginal children at all age levels increased significantly in recent years. In 2018, immunisation rates for Aboriginal children at 24 months and 60 months were 89.1 per cent and 96.8 per cent respectively.
Participation in facilitated playgroups for Aboriginal children 0-5 years old has increased over the years. In 2019, eight per cent of Aboriginal children aged 0-5 years participated in a supported playgroup compared to two per cent in 2017.
Supported playgroups operated by ACCOs, such as the five Koorie Kids Playgroups operated by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, play an important role in providing an alternative option to mainstream supported playgroups that are culturally safe, fun and an empowering environment for families with children aged five years and under.
Goal 2: Aboriginal children are raised by Aboriginal families
2.1 Eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in care
- 2.1.1 Rate and number of children and young people in care.
- 2.1.2 Number of children engaged with family support and intensive family support services.
The number of Aboriginal children and young people in care increased from 734 in 2008-09 to 2,450 in 2019-20. At 30 June 2020, Victoria had a rate of 99.8 per 1,000 Aboriginal children in care compared to the rate of non-Aboriginal children in care of 4.7 per 1,000.
The number of Aboriginal children engaged with family support and intensive family support services increased significantly from 338 in 2008-09 to 1,714 in 2019-20. A similar trend was observed for the non-Aboriginal cohort during the same time period.
2.2 Increase Aboriginal care, guardianship and management of Aboriginal children and young people in care
- 2.2.1 Number and proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care placed with i) relatives/kin and ii) other Aboriginal carers.
- 2.2.2 Number and proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care with a Cultural Plan.
- 2.2.3 Number and proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care on contractible orders managed by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs).
- 2.2.4 Number and proportion of Aboriginal children and young people on protection orders under the direct authority of an ACCO (Section 18).
In 2019-20, 79.3 per cent of Aboriginal children were placed either with relatives/kin or other Aboriginal carers. This is a significant improvement from 57.7 per cent in 2008-09.
It is a requirement that a Cultural Plan for children in care is approved within 19 weeks of entering care. At 30 June 2019, 53.3 per cent of Aboriginal children in care for longer than 19 weeks had an approved Cultural Plan. A new model for cultural planning was implemented in 2017, at which point all existing plans were deemed non-compliant. The increase from a zero base to 53.3 per cent is encouraging, but there remain many Aboriginal children in care without a Cultural Plan.
Aboriginal children in Aboriginal care
In 2019-20, 43% of Aboriginal children and young people in care on contractible orders were managed by ACCOs, compared to only 8.7% in 2015-16.
In 2019-20, 5.7% of Aboriginal children and young people were on protection orders under the direct authority of an ACCO (Section 18) compared to 1.6% in 2017-18.
Aboriginal children exiting care
In 2018-19, 47.5% of Aboriginal children and young people were reunified with parent(s) within 12 months of admission to care. The rate is lower than the 2008-09 level when the corresponding rate was 57.6%.
In 2018-19, 69.5 per cent of Aboriginal children and young people who exited care did not return to care within 12 months. This is a significant negative outcome as the corresponding rate in 2008-09 was 80.6%.
2.3 Increase family reunifications for Aboriginal children and young people in care
- 2.3.2 Number of Aboriginal children and young people who exit care and do not return to care within 12 months as a proportion of all Aboriginal children and young people who exit care.
In 2018-19, 69.5% of Aboriginal children and young people who exited care did not return to care within 12 months. This is a significant negative outcome as the corresponding rate in 2008-09 was 80.6%.
Goal 3: Aboriginal Families and households thrive
3.1 Reduce the incidence and impact of family violence affecting Aboriginal families
- 3.1.1 Number and proportion of family incident reports involving an Aboriginal other party; and proportion of those who were the subject of a previous family incident report.
- 3.1.2 Number and proportion of family incident reports involving an Aboriginal affected family member; and proportion of those who were the subject of a previous family incident report.
- 3.1.3 Number and proportion of notifications to child protection for children and young people where family violence is identified.
Since 2007, reporting on the number of family violence incidents by an Aboriginal other party increased steadily. In 2019, 5,249 family violence incidents by an Aboriginal other party were reported and of these, 85.2 per cent were repeat offences.
4,390 family violence incidences were reported against an Aboriginal affected family member in 2019, which represents 5.2 per cent of all family violence incidents.
Child protection where family violence is identified
In 2018–19, 5,028 reports to child protection were recorded for Aboriginal children and young people where family violence was identified. The corresponding figure was only 133 in 2008-09. It should be noted that in 2010-11, enhancements to the child protection Client Relationship Information System saw a new field added to capture family violence as an area of concern at the report stage. Since then, the rate of notification to child protection for children where family violence is identified has considerably increased for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children.
In response, government has worked with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) to develop the Aboriginal Family Preservation and Reunification Response (the Response) – an innovative approach to delivering relational, evidence-informed and coordinated support to vulnerable children and families through a strengthened partnership with Child Protection. Aboriginal cultural elements have been developed by the VACCA and co-designed with ACCOs for implementation by all Response practitioners to advance Aboriginal self-determination and support cultural healing.
3.2 Increase income and housing security for Aboriginal households
- 3.2.4 Proportion of Victorians accessing homelessness services.
A stable home and a culturally safe and responsive housing and homelessness system is fundamental to achieving equity in housing outcomes. Across 2019-2020, progress has been made towards this aim, including through the Victorian Government’s support for Mana-na worn-tyeen maar-takoort, the landmark Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework, developed by Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) and community housing partners.
In 2018-2019, 9,837 Aboriginal Victorians accessed homelessness services, which equates to 17.2% of the Victorian Aboriginal population. This rate is 11.6 times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal Victorians, and well above the national rate of 9.8%.
Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework
In February 2020, Mana-na worn-tyeen maar-takoort (Every Aboriginal Person Has a Home) Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework was launched. Mana-na worn-tyeen maar-takoort is the first statewide housing policy to be developed by and for Aboriginal people in any Australian jurisdiction.
The framework was developed through a community-led process with Aboriginal Housing Victoria in conjunction with other key Aboriginal community stakeholders. It makes housing central in the work to support Aboriginal people to thrive through self-determination.
The Framework’s key actions include: building the housing supply needed for a fast-growing population; opening doors to the autonomy of living in the private market; and stimulating Aboriginal home ownership. It involves creating a homeless support system that understands Aboriginal people and responds to their needs. The Framework builds capacity in the Aboriginal and mainstream systems to make homelessness the exception and home ownership the norm.
The framework is backed by major investments. In May 2020, the Victorian Government committed $35 million for property maintenance for Aboriginal Victorians. In November 2020, it announced that 10% of new social housing (around 1,200 homes) is earmarked for the Aboriginal community.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
The Victorian Government is partnering with Aboriginal community stakeholders and organisations to drive improved outcomes for children and families.
Dhelk Dja’s 5 strategic priorities are:
- Aboriginal culture and leadership
- Aboriginal-led prevention
- self-determining Aboriginal family violence support and services
- system transformation based on self-determination principles
- Aboriginal-led and informed innovation, data and research.
Dhelk Dja’s key actions and investments in 2020 include:
- An $18.2 million Dhelk Dja Family Violence Fund has been established over two years as a flexible pool of funding streams for eligible Aboriginal community groups to enable a range of Aboriginal-led tailored responses for victims, survivors and people who use violence.
- A Concept Model for Aboriginal Access Points has been endorsed by the Dhelk Dja Partnership Forum, supporting the design and establishment of Aboriginal Access Points to the family violence system, alongside The Orange Door network.
- The Dhelk Dja Monitoring Evaluation and Accountability Plan has been endorsed to support the monitoring and evaluation of Aboriginal-led family violence initiatives against the Dhelk Dja Agreement using Aboriginal defined measures of success.
- The Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework and the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme continues to be implemented by Family Safety Victoria.
- Perpetrator focussed Risk Identification and Assessment tools and the perpetrator focussed practice guides have been developed, in collaboration with Curtin University.
- An Aboriginal Data Mapping and Data Needs project has commenced to improve understanding of Aboriginal family violence and build evidence for effective prevention and intervention.
Children and family services
Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement is overseen by the Aboriginal Children’s Forum, and drives reforms to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people, including efforts to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in care services by strengthening their connection to culture, Country and community.
Wungurilwil Gapgapduir key actions and investments in 2020 include:
- $46.2 million in 2020-21 to increase capacity of the child and family services sector to provide support to children and families during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes funding for the delivery of the Response.
- Development of the Victorian Family Preservation and Reunification Response and Aboriginal Family Preservation and Reunification Response (the Response). As discussed on page 38, Aboriginal cultural elements have been developed by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and co‑designed with ACCOs for implementation by all Response practitioners to advance Aboriginal self‑determination and support cultural healing.
- Continuation of the Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care (ACAC) and Transitioning Aboriginal Children to Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations initiatives. As at June 2020, approximately 50 per cent of Aboriginal children in care on contractable orders were under the care and case management of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (801 children).
Mana-na worn-tyeen maar-takoort: Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness Framework is overseen by a working group that includes government, Aboriginal Housing Victoria and other Aboriginal community-controlled housing providers.
Mana-na worn-tyeen maar-takoort key actions and investments in 2020/21 include:
- 10% of new social housing in the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion Big Housing Build allocated for Aboriginal Victorians, delivering a minimum of 820 dwellings.
- $35 million to maintain and deliver property upgrades to more than 2000 long-term social housing properties owned and managed by ACCOs.
- $4.2 million for the Private Rental Assistance Program to assist vulnerable Aboriginal Victorians access private rentals.
- $300,000 for a feasibility study into an Aboriginal specific homelessness access point.
- $450,000 to support the extension of Aboriginal Housing Victoria’s More Than a Landlord program which provides social supports for vulnerable tenants.
- $1.06 million for ACCOs to provide outreach support to social housing tenants.
- $440,000 for additional homelessness support workers in ACCOs to support increased demand due to coronavirus.
Learning and skills
Culturally-supportive and responsive learning spaces are vital for creating an environment where Aboriginal students feel supported to achieve their learning aspirations and excel.
Our shared commitment
Every Aboriginal person achieves their potential, succeeds in life, and feels strong in their cultural identity.
A quality education includes a place of learning that is responsive, welcoming and supportive. Creating culturally inclusive learning environments is vital to ensuring Aboriginal students feel safe and supported to achieve their learning aspirations.
Goal 4: Aboriginal children thrive in the early years
4.1 Optimise early childhood development and participation in kinder
- 4.1.1 Number and proportion of eligible children enrolled in a funded 4-year-old kindergarten program in the year before school.
- 4.1.2 Number of children funded to participate in Early Start Kindergarten.
Providing culturally responsive, targeted assistance in the early years has seen Aboriginal kindergarten participation increase significantly in recent years. In 2019, 99.9% of Aboriginal 4-year-old children were enrolled in a funded kindergarten program, which was greater than the enrolment rate of all Victorian four-year-old children.
While the increased enrolment of Aboriginal children in early childhood education is significant, the Victorian Government is also working to increase the attendance of Aboriginal children at their early childhood education service though increasing the inclusivity and quality of early childhood education services, in line with key priorities in Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2023 to ensure early childhood education is inclusive and culturally safe, enabling Aboriginal children to meaningfully participate.
The number of Aboriginal children participating in the Early Start Kindergarten program steadily increased from 642 in 2016, to 952 in 2019. The proportion of Aboriginal children aged four years participating also increased across this period from 44.6% in 2016 to 66.1% in 2019.
Goal 5: Aboriginal learners excel at school
5.1 Bring Aboriginal achievement at school in line with learner’s aspirations
- 5.1.1 Percentage of students in top 3 bands – Reading and Numeracy (NAPLAN) in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9
An increase in the number of Aboriginal learners achieving scores in the top 3 bands for NAPLAN testing shows significant growth in literacy and numeracy skills across most school years. However, lower rates of feeling connected to their school, as well as lower attendance rates, remain significant challenges.
This highlights the need for schools to be culturally safe and engaging places for Aboriginal learners to enable learners to reach their full potential – this includes Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care, who will be supported by ACCOs in their education endeavours under the transfer of guardianship from government to Aboriginal organisations.
The percentage of Aboriginal students in the top three bands for NAPLAN Reading increased between 2008 and 2019 for all years (3,5,7 and 9), with the largest increase (9.6%) in Year 5 Reading. The percentage of Aboriginal students in the top 3 bands in NAPLAN numeracy increased across Years 5, 7, and 9, and rates decreased for Year 3.
5.2 Increase the proportion of Aboriginal students who feel safe and connected at school
- 5.2.1 Proportion of students who feel connected to their school.
- 5.2.2 Student attendance rates in government schools.
- 5.2.3 Number of Aboriginal people on school councils.
- 5.2.4 Proportion of students who report bullying at school.
- 5.2.6 Number of schools teaching an Aboriginal language.
- 5.2.7 Number of government schools having undertaken Cultural Understanding and Safety Training.
There is significant variation across school years, with students reporting much higher levels of connectedness in primary school, which then decreases substantially by Years 10 to 12. This is the same trend for non-Aboriginal students.
From 2014 to 2019, Aboriginal students’ school attendance rates decreased across all years of schooling. While school attendance rates during this time is higher in the early years in primary school, attendance drops significantly from Year 7 to Year 8, inferring more support is needed to help Aboriginal students transition to high school. In 2019, the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students school attendance remained significant, with an average gap of 6.6% across all school years.
The number of Aboriginal people on school councils increased substantially from 164 in 2018 to 374 in 2019, across 114 schools.
In 2019, Aboriginal students in all school year levels reported experiencing higher rates of bullying than their non-Aboriginal peers. Notably, around a quarter of Aboriginal students in Years 7 to 9 reported having been bullied.
The number of schools teaching an Aboriginal language has grown significantly over the past decade, from one in 2010 to 17 in 2019.
Cultural Understanding and Safety Training
In 2019, 29% of all Victorian Government schools (i.e. school staff and/or council members) had undertaken Cultural Understanding and Safety Training (CUST). There was a sharp increase from 373 in 2018 to 517 in 2019.
CUST builds the capacity of Victorian Government school staff to better support Aboriginal learners, including through developing more culturally inclusive practices. Programs such as CUST are an important first step to ensure that schools provide a safe and welcoming learning environment, to improve attendance for Aboriginal students.
Goal 6: Aboriginal learners are engaged at school
6.1 Increase Year 12 or equivalent attainment
- 6.1.2 Apparent retention rates for students in years 10 to 12.
- 6.1.3 Number of Aboriginal students who complete the VCE, VCAL or VET in Schools Certificate.
More Aboriginal young people than ever before are completing a Year 12 or equivalent qualification, highlighting the importance of ongoing work to support student engagement, particularly through key transition periods.
While more Aboriginal young people are completing Year 12, there continues to be disparity in apparent retention rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal learners. While the gap narrowed overall from 26.2% to 19.4% between 2010 and 2019, it has been expanding again since 2015.
Goal 7: School leavers achieve their potential
7.1 Increase the proportion of Aboriginal young people in work or further education
- 7.1.1 Destinations of Year 12 completers.
- 7.1.3 Tertiary education participation and completion.
- 7.1.5 Proportion of 20-64-year-old government-funded and total VET graduates employed and/or in further study after training.
- 7.1.6 Proportion of graduates and cadets employed in VPS; retention, progression and satisfaction.
The number of school leavers who go on to work, further education or training has grown significantly over the past decade, indicating that more Aboriginal school leavers than ever before are participating in further study, training and work.
The proportion of Aboriginal young people engaged in education, training or employment has grown significantly across the last decade. According to the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) On-Track survey, in 2019, Aboriginal Year 12 completers were more likely to go on to do a Bachelor degree, apprenticeship or traineeship or be employed, and were less likely to be looking for work than they were in 2009.
Of the 62.8% of Aboriginal Year 12 completers surveyed in 2019 that went on to further education and training, 29.8% undertook a Bachelor degree at University, 15.7% a diploma, and 17.3% an apprenticeship. Of the 37.2% who were not in education or training, the majority were employed.
In 2019, 5,716 Aboriginal Victorians aged 18-24 years took part in VET studies delivered by both non-university and university providers. Since 2015, this represents a 46.7% increase in VET participation for Aboriginal Victorians aged 18-24 years. In contrast, non-Aboriginal participation in VET decreased by 28.3 per cent across the same period.
While it is encouraging to see more Aboriginal 18-24 year olds enrolled in VET programs in 2019, historically, the completion rate has been lower compared to non-Aboriginal Victorians. In particular, in 2019, completion rates (as a proportion of 18-24 year old population) dropped to 0.8% from 1.1% in 2015 for the Aboriginal cohort who enrolled for VET studies at universities.
The number and rate of Aboriginal students undertaking university studies increased significantly in recent times. In 2019, 2,450 Aboriginal students were enrolled in universities compared to 1,150 in 2009. During the same period, the award course attainment rate of Aboriginal students also improved - from 0.38% in 2009 to 0.69% in 2019.
In 2019, after completing training, 85.9% of all Aboriginal VET graduates were employed and/or pursuing further study. This is a small increase from 2018 and now on par with non-Aboriginal VET graduates.
The VPS provides a key employment pathway for Aboriginal Victorians. Between 2017 and June 2020, 235 Aboriginal Victorians were employed in the VPS as graduates or cadets. Of these, 203 (86.4%) have either completed or are on track to complete their respective employment program.
The Aunty Mary Atkinson Scholarship Program
DJPR has partnered with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI) to develop and deliver the Aunty Mary Atkinson Scholarship Program. Aunty Mary Atkinson was a Wiradjuri and Bangerang Elder, whose tenacity and integrity made her an inspirational leader. She dedicated her life to the pursuit of equality for Aboriginal people, particularly in the area of education, which she saw as fundamental to changing lives for the better.
The program, which was offered for the first time in 2020, offers financial support for Aboriginal students to undertake full-time study in a broad range of fields related to the portfolio areas of the Department. DJPR will award up to eight scholarships at any one time of $30,000 annually for up to 4 years to support both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The program aligns with the Department’s Aboriginal Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2020-23 and its commitment to supporting successful career pathways for Aboriginal people.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
The Victorian Government is driving action through Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2026 (Marrung) to ensure that all Aboriginal Victorians achieve their learning aspirations. Marrung’s success relies on the active involvement of local Aboriginal communities and education services providing culturally safe learning environments. Marrung has been developed with and continues to be governed by key Aboriginal community partners, including VAEAI.
The commitment to Marrung is reflected in the significant recent investments of over $35.6 million over 6 years and $4.8 million ongoing through the last 5 State Budgets for Aboriginal-specific supports.
Key actions and investment in 2020 include
- Continuing to support Aboriginal children to attend kindergarten through providing three and 4-year-old children with 15 hours of free or low-cost kindergarten a week.
- Supporting 17 early childhood services to deliver an Aboriginal language in 2020 as part of the Early Childhood Language Program. In partnership with VAEAI, the Department continues to support a further 5 early childhood services to establish their Aboriginal language program.
- $1.2 million for an additional seven FTE Koori Pre-school Assistants from 2021.
Key actions and investments in 2020 include
- $5.0 million in the 2021-21 budget for an additional 16 Koorie Engagement Support Officers.
- $1.2 million in the 2018-19 budget to support online resources and professional development for teachers of Koorie English speakers and a Koorie Literacy and Numeracy Professional Practice Leader.
- $7.9 million from the 2016-17 to 2020-21 State budgets and $1.3 million ongoing for the Koorie Literacy and Numeracy Program to support Aboriginal students not meeting expected benchmarks in literacy or numeracy.
- $2.7 million over four years and $1.2 million ongoing in the 2016-17 budget for Cultural Understanding and Safety Training for all government school staff.
- Aboriginal students will also have access to the $250 million Tutor Learning package, that will see 4,100 tutors being deployed to ensure students that may have fallen behind are supported to catch up.
Key actions and investments in 2020 include
- Free TAFE for priority courses will expand Aboriginal Victorians’ access to training and employment opportunities. The initiative covers tuition fees for eligible students undertaking priority courses, including 45 non-apprenticeship courses and 18 apprenticeship pathway courses.
- Development of options to support Aboriginal learners to engage and participate successfully in VET, including through the redesign of the existing Aboriginal VET workforce. Ongoing support of 18 Koorie Liaison Officers in TAFE and Dual sector institutes and establishment of 32 newly created Koorie Students Support Officers from 2021.
- Improving support for Aboriginal learners undertaking further education and training through $1.7 million to apply an Aboriginal-specific loading to support pre-accredited learners.
Opportunity and prosperity
Fully participating in the economy provides Aboriginal Victorians with the resources they need to determine the future they want. Economic participation is key to Aboriginal self-determination.
Our shared commitment
Building opportunity and economic prosperity for all Aboriginal Victorians.
Fully participating in the economy provides Aboriginal Victorians with the resources they need to self-determine their future.
The Victorian Government is committed to supporting Aboriginal Victorian workers, employers and businesses to thrive, including supporting them to recover from the financial impacts of coronavirus.
As part of government’s efforts, fostering inclusive economic growth is key. This means stimulating work and additional economic development and business opportunities for Aboriginal young people, women, people living with a disability and those in regional areas, and ensuring Aboriginal Victorians are represented at all levels, across all sectors and in all pursuits.
Goal 8: Aboriginal workers achieve wealth equality
8.3 Increase Aboriginal business ownership and support Aboriginal entrepreneurs
- 8.3.2 Aboriginal businesses that government enters into a purchase agreement with as a proportion of small to medium enterprises.
The number of Aboriginal businesses that the Victorian Government entered into a purchase agreement with increased by 35% in the past 12 months, from 94 in 2018-19 to 127 in 2019-20. During the same period, total procurement value with Aboriginal businesses increased by 176%, from $16.7 million to $46.1 million.
Goal 9: Strong Aboriginal workforce participation, in all sectors and at all levels
9.1 Increase Aboriginal workforce participation
- 9.1.3 Aboriginal jobseekers supported into work.
Under the Jobs Victoria Employment Network (JVEN) program, the Victorian Government funds several training and employment linkage programs to support Aboriginal jobseekers. In 2019, 303 Aboriginal jobseekers secured JVEN placements compared to 230 in 2018. This equates to an increase of 24.1% from 2018.
9.4 Increase Aboriginal leadership and representation across all sectors and levels
- 9.4.3 Number of Aboriginal people at VPS 6 level and above in the VPS.
- 9.4.4 Number of Aboriginal people participating on government boards.
The number of Aboriginal employees within the VPS has grown each year from 2017 to 2019, however as a percentage of the total VPS, it remained steady at 1.2% in 2018 and 2019. On a positive note, the number of Aboriginal staff employed in the VPS has been proportionally higher than the non-Aboriginal cohort during the same period. In 2019, 1.6% of the Aboriginal 18 and above population was employed in the VPS compared to 0.5 percent of the non‑Aboriginal 18 and above population.
From 2018 to 2019, the number of Aboriginal employees within the VPS in leadership roles declined slightly from 59 to 56. In 2019, 9.2% of all VPS Aboriginal staff were at Grade 6 or above.
Government acknowledges that given the important role of ACCOs in delivering programs and services, there remains an ongoing need to support the ACCO-sector workforce.
In 2019, 90 Aboriginal people were on Victorian Government boards, which represented 1.3% of all Victorian Government board appointments.
Goal 10: Aboriginal income potential is realised
Victorian Aboriginal Employment and Economic Council
DJPR has established the Victorian Aboriginal Employment and Economic Council (the Council) to improve employment and economic outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians, with its first meeting held in October 2020.
The Council operates within the principles of self-determination and membership is comprised of 20 appointed Aboriginal community members (Koori Caucus), DJPR Executive Board members and Executive Officers from State and Commonwealth government agencies. The Council’s 20 Aboriginal community members serve a 12-month term and include six standing community members representing peak Aboriginal organisations and 14 community members who offer diverse experience, skills and broad representation in economic development across areas of business and entrepreneurship, Traditional Owner economic development, skills development, creative industries, community organisations and development, and tourism.
The Council provides advice and guidance to government on matters affecting Aboriginal Victorians in business, employment, tourism, culture and broader economic development. The Council also provides a mechanism for the Aboriginal community to have direct input into the design, implementation and evaluation of policies, programs and practices to drive Aboriginal economic prosperity.
In its first 12 months, the Council will lead on the development and monitoring of the new Victorian Aboriginal Employment and Economic Development Strategy.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
The Victorian Aboriginal Business Strategy 2017 – 2021 (VABS) and Victorian Aboriginal Economic Strategy 2013-2020 (VAES)
Tharamba Bugheen Victorian Aboriginal Business Strategy 2017-2021 (VABS) guided Victoria’s efforts to support Aboriginal businesses and economic development, while the Victorian Aboriginal Economic Strategy 2013-2020 (VAES) has supported opportunity and economic prosperity for Aboriginal Victorians across the last decade. Both VABS and VAES lapsed in June 2020. Through VAES and VABS, the government partnered with non-government organisations to deliver on many of the initiatives within the strategies.
Key investments across 2020 include
- $15.6 million for employment initiatives generated through the Working for Victoria Program to support 33 proposals from ACCOs, Traditional Owner Groups and First Peoples Creative Industry bodies, which led to the creation of over 260 employment opportunities.
- $5.7 million for the development of economic development strategies by Kaiela Institute and 11 Traditional Owner Groups.
- $502,000 for Kinaway Chamber of Commerce and RMIT University to deliver three initiatives in 2020 to support Aboriginal businesses.
- $285,000 for delivery of support to Aboriginal businesses and business owners to address the significant health, wellbeing, and economic impacts of coronavirus.
Key actions across 2020 include
Support provided from VABS funds to deliver 3 initiatives with RMIT University and Kinaway Chamber of Commerce:
- Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Manager to employ an Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Manager over 12 months to foster growth in the Aboriginal Women’s Business Sector.
- Aboriginal business joint venture awareness program to assist in developing high-growth, export‑ready Aboriginal businesses.
- ‘Trade Routes’ Aboriginal business growth program to deliver a program to guide and improve outcomes for Aboriginal joint ventures.
Support provided from VABS funds to respond to the significant health, wellbeing and economic impacts of coronavirus on Aboriginal businesses and business owners. Initiatives were developed in consultation with Aboriginal community partners, Kinaway Chamber of Commerce and Ngarrimili, that enhance access to existing support services. Initiatives funded include:
- Health and Wellbeing Package to provide mental health and wellbeing services through third party providers.
- Tax focused professional support Package to administer professional services packages to Aboriginal businesses to ready themselves for the eligibility requirements of government COVID- 19 response funding initiatives.
- Online Visibility Support Package to administer online visibility support packages to Aboriginal businesses to transition to or enhance their business’ online presence.
- Women's COVID-19 Support Package to support Aboriginal women in business by providing access to core business skills workshops.
Support provided through VAES in 2020 enabled:
- Aboriginal consultancy business Wan-Yaari to work in partnership with the Geelong Aboriginal community to develop a model for a VPS sector‑wide Aboriginal Recruitment and Career Development Strategy.
- Development of Regional Economic Development Strategies by Kaiela Institute and Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation.
Barring Djinang: Aboriginal Staff Strategy
Barring Djinang is the 5 year Aboriginal Employment Strategy for the Victorian public sector. It includes 16 initiatives designed to enhance attraction, recruitment and retention of Aboriginal staff. Barring Djinang initiatives help public sector agencies support and improve career experiences for Aboriginal employees, placing a strong focus on career development.
Victorian Public Sector Commission’s (VPSC) Aboriginal Employment Unit drives the roll out of initiatives across the public sector and partners with ACCOs to remain responsive.
Key actions across 2020 focussed on continued delivery of Barring Djinang programs and initiatives, including
- Barring Djinang Leadership Program, which was completed by 26 emerging Aboriginal leaders from Aboriginal Community Controlled, Traditional Owner and Victorian public sector organisations.
- Barring Djinang Career Development program which was completed by 23 participants across 2 intakes.
- Barring Djinang Internship program, which welcomed 34 Aboriginal interns to a variety of public sector agencies.
- Inaugural intake of 10 participants into the Barring Djinang VET/TAFE Graduate Program.
- 12 Aboriginal Graduates entered the Victorian government graduate program via its Aboriginal Pathway.
- Continued delivery of the Barring Djinang Regional Aboriginal Staff Networks.
- Launch of the Aboriginal Cultural Capability in the Workplace Program (formerly the Public Entity Capacity Building program).
- Publication of guidance to public sector employers on the application of Special Measures provisions in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.
Health and wellbeing
Improving health outcomes and having a good quality of life will ensure all Victorian Aboriginal communities can thrive.
Our shared commitment
Self-determining, healthy and safe Aboriginal people and communities.
Holistic approaches to Aboriginal health and wellbeing are critical to improving outcomes. This includes not only considering the physical, mental and social determinants of Aboriginal health, wellbeing and safety, but also the cultural determinants, such as connection to culture and Country. While many Aboriginal Victorians report good health, health inequities remain.
Together, government service providers, Aboriginal organisations and communities must take significant steps to ensure that all Aboriginal Victorians have access to high-quality, culturally safe and responsive health care services. Improving overall health outcomes and having a good quality of life is a basic necessity to ensure all Victorian Aboriginal communities can thrive.
Goal 11: Aboriginal Victorians enjoy health and longevity
11.1 Improve Aboriginal health status, quality of life and life expectancy
- 11.1.2 Proportion reporting ‘excellent or very good’ health status.
- 11.1.3 Rate of daily smoking.
- 11.1.6 Rate of emergency department presentations for alcohol or drug-related harm.
- 11.1.7 Specialist alcohol and other drug treatment services provided to Aboriginal Victorians.
Life expectancy is not the only way to measure health and wellbeing, but it is an important indicator of overall health and access to health services.
In 2017-19, 44.5% of Aboriginal Victorians rated their own health as 'excellent' or 'very good', which has increased from 2014-15 (36.9%). However, across the same period, Aboriginal people were more likely to consider themselves as having ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ health (25.8%) compared to non-Aboriginal Victorians (14.3%).
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia. While the proportion of Aboriginal Victorians who smoke daily is still high (36% in 2017-19), there has been a long‑term downward trend in daily smoking (down from 47 per cent in 2004–05).
Between 2013 and 2017, there were 978 cancer diagnoses for Aboriginal Victorians (an average of 163 diagnoses per year). In the 5-year period 2013–17 inclusive, the incidence rate of cancer in Aboriginal Victorians was 580.8 and 494.6 per 10,000 for men and women respectively, which was considerably higher than the incidence rate of cancer in non-Aboriginal‑ men and women (346.5 and 287.1 per 10,000 respectively).
In 2018-19, Aboriginal Victorians presented at hospital emergency departments for alcohol and drug related harm at 5.8 times the rate of non-Aboriginal Victorians, with rates increasing year on year since 2012-13. Rates increased sharply among Aboriginal young people, from 27 per 1,000 in 2017-18, to 37.5 per 1,000 in 2018-19, which is around four times the rate of non-Aboriginal young people (9.4 per 1,000).
Despite increased rates of risky alcohol and drug use, Aboriginal Victorians represent just 7.2% of all Victorian AOD consumers in 2018-19, which is lower than the national average of 17% (see AIHW, 2018-19). A lack of engagement with AOD services means that opportunities to intervene early and prevent admission to emergency departments are missed.
DHHS held a roundtable with key Aboriginal sector representatives in November 2020 to explore AOD service delivery priorities for Aboriginal people, in particular the need for Aboriginal specific models of care and culturally sensitive practice across mainstream services. Further work is underway to identify opportunities to address these issues including implementation of recommendations from the final report of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System and as part of development of the new health model for public intoxication.
Service provision of specialist alcohol and other drug treatment for Aboriginal Victorians has increased over time. Between 2008–09 and 2017–18, the number of Aboriginal clients completing treatment increased from 55.2 per 1,000 persons to 101.9 per 1,000.
Aboriginal Cultural Safety Grants
Aboriginal Victorians have significantly higher cancer incidence and mortality rates than non-Aboriginal Victorians. A lack of culturally safe health services is one reason that Aboriginal people with cancer do not seek diagnosis or treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services’ cancer unit piloted the Aboriginal Cultural Safety Grants which provide funding of up to $25,000 to 12 metropolitan and regional health services to support culturally safe cancer services, including:
- the creation of a yarning garden next to the Bairnsdale Regional Health Service oncology unit which includes custom-made seating incorporating local Aboriginal totems and panels featuring the five Gunai Kurnai clans
- the development of quilts and dilly bags for Aboriginal patients with cancer at St Vincent’s hospital. The quilts and dilly bags made by an Aboriginal artist are gifted to cancer inpatients at the commencement of their hospital stay.
Goal 12: Aboriginal Victorians access the services they need
12.1 Improve access to health and community services for all Aboriginal Victorians
- 12.1.1 Proportion who received a health check or assessment by age.
- 12.1.5 Number and proportion of people aged 55 years or over who had an annual health assessment.
- 12.1.2 Participation rates for cancer screening.
- 12.1.3 Proportion and number accessing disability services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
- 12.1.4 Number and proportion accessing aged care services.
Between 2007-08 and 2018-19, the proportion of Aboriginal Victorians who received a health check or assessment increased for all age groups. Across this period, the largest increase in participation was for those aged 0–14 years (1.5% in 2007-08 to 15.2% in 2018-19), followed by similar increases for those over 55 (7.5 per cent to 20.9 per cent) across the same period.
Between 2008-09 and 2017-18, the proportion of Victorian Aboriginal women aged 50-69 participating in BreastScreen Australia’s cancer screening program increased from 20.3% to 34.2%). Over the same period, the rate for all Victorian women remained relatively the same at 53.2% and 53.8%, respectively.
Access to disability services
In 2018-19, 623 Aboriginal Victorians accessed disability services, which represents 2.1 per cent of all disability service recipients. This is slightly lower than 2008-09 level when 2.9% disability service recipients were Aboriginal. This could suggest a gap in appropriate culturally safe disability services for Aboriginal people.
As of June 2020, the NDIS identified 2,705 Aboriginal Victorians as potential candidates for the NDIS. Of these, 66.8% (1,808 clients) had been assessed and successfully transitioned to an NDIS plan. The remaining 33.2% (897 clients) were undergoing eligibility process to transition to NDIS and were not receiving any disability supports from NDIS.
DFFH has engaged with the sector to understand the access and planning issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability and the below issues have been reported:
- Access and planning materials are not culturally sensitive and do not reflect the way that disability is perceived in Aboriginal culture.
- Plans fail to reflect Aboriginal culture in what is reasonable and necessary. For example, recognising and building in family and community supports into NDIS plans is a key challenge for both participant and the NDIS.
- Lack of Aboriginal planners who can effectively engage with participants and community.
DFFH is working collaboratively with NDIA to enhance their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach and community engagement work. The department is also working with ACCOs and Aboriginal communities to support people’s transition to the NDIS. In 2018, the department allocated Transition Support Package (TSP) funding to ACCOs to develop local responses to NDIS transition challenges for Aboriginal people with disability. VACCHO was also allocated TSP funding to further their existing work supporting ACCOs to understand the NDIS and to implement business changes to operate within the NDIS context.
Access to aged care services
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report has laid out the extensive changes needed to ensure aged care services are high quality and safe and meet the needs of the people accessing them. The Royal Commission made 148 wide-ranging recommendations, including an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander aged care pathway to provide culturally safe and flexible aged care to meet the needs of people wherever they live.
The proportion of Aboriginal Victorians aged 50 and above accessing aged care services increased between 2007-08 and 2018-19, from 4.0 to 7.1 per cent. Over the same period, the proportion of non-Aboriginal Victorians aged 65 and above accessing aged care services has remained relatively stable at 7.1 and 7.0 per cent, respectively.
Loddon Mallee Aboriginal Reference Group Fluoride Varnish Program
The Loddon Mallee Aboriginal Reference Group (LMARG) Fluoride Varnish Program focuses on improving the oral health of Aboriginal children in key settings including schools, Aboriginal specific early years services and ACCOs. The pilot program started in 2019 and has provided approximately 200 Aboriginal children aged 3-18 years with two fluoride varnish applications, oral health screens and dental tooth packs. Highlights of the pilot include:
- Development and establishment of sustainable culturally appropriate systems and processes under the guidance of the four LMARG ACCOs in the region.
- Roll out in 6 regional towns (Bendigo, Echuca, Kerang, Swan Hill, Robinvale and Mildura) across early learning centres and schools.
- Establishment and strengthening of partnerships between ACCOs, public dental services and dental schools/universities.
- Increased awareness and engagement of Aboriginal families with oral health services.
The program has been funded an additional $360,000 to continue implementation in 2020-21 and is expected to reach approximately 600 Aboriginal children.
Goal 13. Health and community services are culturally-safe and responsive
13.1 Increase the cultural safety and responsiveness of services
- 13.1.3 Hospitalisations where patients left against medical advice/ were discharged at own risk.
There are a number of concerning trends emerging in this chapter. Culturally safe and responsive health services are vital to ensuring that Aboriginal Victorians feel safe and supported when seeking the healthcare they need. Cultural safety is about creating an environment that is safe for Aboriginal people. This means there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identities and experiences.
Both mainstream and Aboriginal organisations are responsible for providing culturally safe environments for their clients. While ACCOs and ACCHOs provide much of Victoria’s culturally safe and appropriate health and community services to the Aboriginal community, sustained efforts are needed to build the cultural safety of mainstream services to ensure Aboriginal Victorians have access to culturally safe services regardless of their service provider.
In 2018-19, Aboriginal Victorians were discharged from hospitals against medical advice at a rate of 13.2 per 1,000 people, which is over five times the rate of non-Aboriginal Victorians. This may reflect Aboriginal people not feeling culturally safe when in hospital and indicates that more must be done to ensure hospitals are safe and welcoming places for Aboriginal people requiring medical care.
Goal 14: Aboriginal Victorians enjoy social and emotional wellbeing
14.1 Improve Aboriginal mental health and social and emotional wellbeing
- 14.1.1 Proportion reporting ‘high or very high’ levels of psychological and psychosocial distress.
- 14.1.2 Rate of self-harm related emergency department presentations (by 15-24 years old, and all).
- 14.1.5 Number of Aboriginal Victorians receiving clinical mental health services.
In 2017–19, 36% of Aboriginal Victorians aged 15 and above reported 'high' or 'very high' levels of psychological distress, which is almost 3 times higher than the rate of non-Aboriginal Victorians. Psychological distress is a proxy measure of the overall mental health and wellbeing of the population, and very high levels of psychological distress may signify a need for professional help and provide an estimate of the need for mental health services (Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria’s Mental Health Services Annual Report 2019–20, p. 20.).
Aboriginal people with ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of psychological distress have poorer general health and wellbeing outcomes and are more likely to:
- self-report poor or fair health
- drink at chronic or risky levels
- use illicit substances
- be a victim of violence.
This is compounded by experiences of racism across health and human service settings and the broader community. Racism continues to have a significant impact on Aboriginal peoples’ decisions about when and why they seek health services, their acceptance of and adherence to treatment
In 2018-19, Aboriginal Victorians of all ages presented at hospital emergency departments for self-harm related reasons at a rate five times higher than non-Aboriginal Victorians. Similarly, the rate per 1,000 of Aboriginal people aged 15-24 years old presenting to emergency departments for self-harm related reasons increased significantly in the last decade (5.6 in 2008-09 to 37.5 in 2018-19).
Recent (i.e. 2018-19) changes to hospital codes that identify intentional self-harm and suicidal ideation related presentations to Victorian emergency departments are likely to have contributed to the increased specificity in recording emergency presentations for self-harm related injuries. However, it is also noted that mental health emergency department presentations have been rising over time for all Victorians, and some of these presentations concern self-harm. This may in part relate to greater awareness of mental health concerns and greater willingness to seek assistance.
Evidence suggests that higher rates of mental health related issues and self-harm among Aboriginal Victorians can be linked to experiences of continued intergenerational trauma, grief, loss, sexual abuse, family violence, marginalisation, racism and discrimination, past removal policies, culturally unsafe services, unemployment, low levels of educational attainment, and lack of connection to Country, culture, community and spirituality.
Access to community mental health care services
The rate of Aboriginal Victorians receiving community mental health care services contact increased substantially from 679 per 1,000 in 2008-09 to 1,034.2 per 1,000 in 2018-19. In the same time period, non-Aboriginal Victorians accessing clinical mental health care services dropped from 313.3 per 1,000 in 2008-09 to 299.1 per 1,000 in 2017-18.
Outcome indicators show that Aboriginal Victorians continue to be over-represented in clinical mental health services. Aboriginal people form about 0.7% of Victoria’s population, with 3.1% receiving clinical mental health care, compared with 1.16% of the Victorian population overall. This has been trending upwards over the past 5 years (Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria’s Mental Health Services Annual Report 2019–20, p. 20.).
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework report (2017) notes that ‘while Indigenous Australians use mental health services at higher rates than other Australians, it is hard to assess whether this use is as high as the underlying need.’ (p.167).
Yarning SafeNStrong Counselling Helpline
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) established an Aboriginal owned and operated Yarning SafeNStrong counselling helpline. This helpline is providing counselling support to callers who experience anxiety, distress and mental health during the pandemic.
Yarning SafeNStrong is also providing outbound referrals and connecting local ACCOs and other support services (statewide and local services) with community members who wish to be contacted.
Investment in Aboriginal Alcohol and other Drug (AOD) Workers
In 2017-18, the Victorian Government invested $2.4 million per annum in recurrent funding to establish an additional 34 Aboriginal AOD worker positions, to be phased in over three years. Consistent with the Korin Korin Balit-Djak policy on self-determination, VACCHO led the design and delivery of the funding.
Over the past 3 years, this initiative increased the Aboriginal AOD workforce to 94 workers, representing a more than 50 per cent increase in community based AOD treatment and support to Aboriginal clients across the state.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
Korin Korin Balit-Djak: 2017-2027 and Balit Marrup 2017-2027
The Victorian Government, in partnership with Aboriginal communities, community organisations and mainstream service providers, is driving action to improve the health and safety of Aboriginal Victorians through Korin Korin Balit-Djak: Aboriginal health, wellbeing and safety strategic plan 2017-2027 and Balit Marrup: Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing framework. These reforms are driven through the Aboriginal Strategic Governance Forum, and Divisional and Area Aboriginal governance committees.
In November 2020, the Aboriginal Strategic Governance Forum endorsed the development and implementation of Korin Korin Balit-Djak as a systems transformation strategy to focus on priorities that make the most difference for Aboriginal Victorians at a system-wide and departmental level. The strategy has five priority reform areas: Governance and self-determination; funding and commission reform; cultural competency; data and knowledge; and leadership and workforce.
Key investments in 2020-21 include
$40 million Aboriginal Workforce Fund for ACCOs and ACCHOs for 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.
$23.4 million for a Mental Health Bushfire Recovery Package over two years (2019-20) in East Gippsland and North Eastern Victoria. As part of this package, the Victorian Government provided $3.0 million and transferred decision making control to VACCHO who has commissioned seven local ACCOs to deliver Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing programs in their local communities.
$1.5 million to VAHS in 2020-21 to establish a 24 hour Aboriginal owned and operated Yarning SafeNStrong (YSNS) counselling helpline.
$1.35 million has been committed in the 2020-21 Victorian State Budget to further support the Aboriginal Mental Health Traineeship program (established in 2017-18 with $3.5 million over three years) that will see 10 Aboriginal trainees across the state offered full-time ongoing employment in the area mental health service where they have undertaken their traineeship. Eight area mental health services are participating in the traineeship program: Eastern Health, Bendigo Health, Alfred Health, Peninsula Health, Latrobe Health, Mildura Base Hospital, Monash Health and Forensicare.
$1.57 million has been committed in the 2020-21 Victorian State Budget to further support the employment of clinical and therapeutic mental health positions in positions in selected Aboriginal community-controlled organisations across rural and metropolitan areas.
The clinical and therapeutic mental health positions are selected from a broad range of disciplines (such as mental health nurses, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers), as determined by Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. The clinical and therapeutic mental health positions are located at 10 Aboriginal community-controlled organisations:
- Ramahyuck and District Aboriginal Cooperation (Morwell)
- Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
- Mallee and District Aboriginal Health Service (Swan Hill)
- Oonah Health and Community Services Aboriginal Corporation
- Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative
- Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BADAC)
- Budja Aboriginal Cooperative
- Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation
- Dhauwurd-Wurrung Elderly and Community Health Service
- Kirrae Health Services.
Key actions across 2020 include:
The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (RCVMHS)
The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System (the Commission) was established in February 2019, and delivered its final report on 3 February 2021. The final report was tabled in Parliament by the Victorian Government on 2 March 2021.
The final report is the culmination of a 24-month inquiry, with nearly 3,000 pages and includes 65 recommendations which set out the reforms required to deliver a reimagined mental health and wellbeing system for all Victorians. This builds on the priority recommendations the Commission made in its interim report in November 2019 to respond to immediate needs and to lay the foundations for the future.
The Commission received more than 12,500 contributions to its work including through consultations, roundtables, public hearings, witness statements, surveys, workshops and more than 3,200 submissions from individuals and organisations.
For the first time in history, Aboriginal leaders, organisations, people, families, carers, and communities were given the opportunity to share their individual and collective experiences of pain, trauma and resilience and help shape a redesign of Victoria’s mental health system. The Commission also acknowledged the significant contribution of VACCHO, which developed the Balit Durn Durn report to support the Commission’s deliberation.
The Commission’s interim report identified the urgent need to address mental illness in Aboriginal communities and the central role of self-determined Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing services in promoting Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing. The interim report recommended expanding the delivery of multi-disciplinary social and emotional wellbeing teams across Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations. It also recommended the establishment of a new Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Centre to support the transformation of Aboriginal mental health care across the state.
The recommendations contained in the final report build on the interim report recommendations. They include funding for two healing centres to complement the social and emotional wellbeing services delivered by Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations. This reform recognises healing is an essential component of improved Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing.
The Commission is also recommending a suite of reforms to provide children and families with early, culturally safe and flexible support through Aboriginal-led organisations in partnership with mental health services. Aboriginal children and young people will be able to access specialist mental health services, family-oriented therapeutic care and intensive multidisciplinary care delivered within community settings. These reforms focus squarely on care being delivered through Aboriginal organisations.
Many Aboriginal people access mainstream mental health services for their care and it is incumbent on mental health services to provide culturally safe responsive and inclusive treatment, care and support.
The Commission’s aspiration is for a mental health and wellbeing system where Aboriginal self-determination is respected in the design and delivery of care. In the new system, Aboriginal people should be able to choose to receive care within Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, within mainstream services, or a mix of both. Irrespective of where treatment, care and support are delivered for Aboriginal people, communities and families, it is fundamental that it is safe, inclusive, respectful and responsive.
In 2020, Mental Health Reform Victoria (MHRV) and VACCHO formed the VACCHO-MHRV Partnership. The VACCHO-MHRV Partnership is planning the implementation of the Royal Commission recommendations and co-designing activities to strengthen Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing. This partnership with its focus on supporting Aboriginal self-determination is critical to the successful delivery of all the Commission’s Aboriginal and social and emotional wellbeing recommendations.
Aboriginal suicide prevention pilot programs
The Department of Health (formerly DHHS) is supporting the development of culturally appropriate and safe suicide prevention approaches which respond to particular issues for Aboriginal communities. This work includes Primary Health Networks (PHNs) implementing placed-based approaches to suicide prevention across 12 sites in Victoria. The establishment of the suicide prevention trial sites has led to the formation of more than 300 local partnerships including partnerships with local ACCOs.
An example of local partnership work to support Aboriginal suicide prevention and post-vention support, includes the Department of Health and Department of Justice and Community Safety partnering with local Aboriginal organisations, Aboriginal Elders and the Gippsland PHN to develop a Gippsland Aboriginal Postvention Framework.
The Gippsland Aboriginal Postvention Framework is being developed to support Aboriginal communities in the Gippsland region to have culturally appropriate and safe access to mental health and Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing support services. The Gippsland Aboriginal Postvention Framework will support families, friends and communities affected by suicide while also providing a suicide prevention and early intervention response. The Gippsland Aboriginal Postvention Framework will support Aboriginal self-determination and will emphasise the strength of cultural, family and community connections.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Safety Framework (Framework) for health, human and community services
In January 2020, the former DHHS publicly rolled out the Framework to assist mainstream Victorian health, human and community services. The Framework aims to create culturally safe environments, services and workplaces for Aboriginal Victorians. It provides a continuous quality improvement model to strengthen the cultural safety of individuals and organisations.
Justice and safety
Systemic and structural barriers that Aboriginal people experience, such as racism and social and economic disadvantage, can lead to over-representation in the justice system.
Our shared commitment:
Aboriginal people have access to an equitable justice system that is shaped by self-determination, and protects and upholds their human, civil, legal and cultural rights.
Most Aboriginal people will never be involved with the criminal justice system. Those who are, however, are more likely to experience ongoing involvement. Systemic and structural barriers lead to Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system and entrenched cycles of disadvantage.
These barriers include inequality, racism, discrimination and unconscious bias, social and economic disadvantage and involvement with the child protection system. While the over-representation of Aboriginal people remains, community-led responses are going some way to address these underlying structural factors.
Goal 15: Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system is eliminated
15.1 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the justice system
- 15.1.1 Number, rate and age profile of unique youth (10-17 years) alleged
- offenders processed by police.
- 15.1.2 Average daily number and rate of children and young people (10-17 years) under youth justice supervision in detention and community-based supervision.
- 15.1.3 Proportion of first-time youth alleged offenders (10-17 years) cautioned by police.
- 15.1.4 Proportion of young people (10-17 years) in detention on remand.
Aboriginal Victorians are over-represented in both the adult and youth justice systems. Contributing factors to this include a greater likelihood of Aboriginal people being charged with an offence after being detained and increases in remand-based detention. Broader system responses are needed to address the factors that contribute to interaction with and over‑representation in the justice system.
On average, Aboriginal young people are more likely to have contact with the police at a younger age than their non-Aboriginal peers. Between July 2007 to June 2020, the proportion of alleged youth offenders aged 10-17 was consistently higher for Aboriginal Victorians compared to non-Aboriginal Victorians.
In 2019-20, Aboriginal young people (10-17 years) were almost six times more likely to be processed by police as alleged offenders than their non-Aboriginal peers.
On an average day in 2018-19, there were 19 Aboriginal young people and 103 non-Aboriginal young people in detention. When looking at detention rates per 10,000 people, this means that Aboriginal young people were about ten times more likely to be detained than their non-Aboriginal peers. This has improved from the 2007-08 level, when the corresponding rate ratio was 17.7 times.
The proportion of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal first-time alleged youth offenders receiving a caution from police declined significantly between 2007-08 and 2019-20. Cautions are an important diversionary response that can prevent further involvement in the justice system.
In 2019-20, around half (50.9%) of Aboriginal first-time alleged offenders aged 10-17 years received a caution from police. The figure was slightly higher for the non-Aboriginal cohort (55.1%).
In 2018-19, the proportion of young people (10-17 years) in detention on remand increased for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cohorts compared with results in 2007-08. In 2018-19, the proportion of Aboriginal young people in detention on remand (66.7%) was slightly lower than the proportion of non-Aboriginal young people (70.5%), a trend similar to 2007-08.
Victoria Police Aboriginal Youth Cautioning Program (AYCP)
Victoria Police hosted a series of workshops involving Aboriginal providers to progress the target under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja - The Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 4 of 43 fewer Aboriginal people in youth justice supervision on an average day. The workshops identified that current policy on the eligibility of a child to receive a caution requires the child to make an admission of guilt, thereby limiting the eligibility of those who may receive a caution.
The AYCP is piloting a holistic community approach to diverting Aboriginal young people, upon receiving a caution, from the justice system and into locally administered Aboriginal community programs. This pilot has been implemented in Bendigo, Dandenong and Echuca.
15.2 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal women in the justice system
- 15.2.1 Number and rate of unique adult female alleged offenders processed by police.
- 15.2.2 Average daily number and rate of Aboriginal women under corrections supervision in prison and community corrections.
- 15.2.3 Proportion of women who return to prison under sentence within two years of release.
- 15.2.4 Proportion of women in prison on remand.
Since 2007-08, the rate of unique adult female offenders processed by police has increased significantly for all women, with a larger increase for Aboriginal women. In 2019-20, Aboriginal women were nearly 11 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be processed by police for an alleged offence.
In 2018–19, the average daily rate of Aboriginal women under corrections supervision in community corrections was around 14 times higher than for non-Aboriginal women, and the rate for Aboriginal women in prison was almost 22 times higher than for non-Aboriginal women. These rates are an increase from those of 2007-08.
The rate of Aboriginal women returning to prison within 2 years of release grew significantly from 2007-08 to 2018-19, from around 38 per cent to 55%.
In recent years, a greater proportion of Aboriginal women in prison were placed on remand. In 2018–19, more than half the Aboriginal women in prison (58.4%) were on remand compared to around 45% of non-Aboriginal women in prison. This is a significant increase from the 2007-08 level for Aboriginal women (just over 13%). The proportion of non-Aboriginal women in prison on remand also increased but to a lesser extent.
Baggarrook Women’s Transitional Housing Program
In 2017, Corrections Victoria recorded that 17% of women on remand were Aboriginal. One major obstacle for Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women, being granted bail is access to safe and stable housing. Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s (VALS) Baggarrook program (Program) is funded by the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
The program is culturally safe and designed to support highly vulnerable Aboriginal women as they transition from prison, recognising the significant and complex needs of these women. The program’s integrated support model involves housing support, provision of care packages, and ongoing support from justice workers and other allied professionals. Within the first year of the program, VALS was able to expand the program to support non-cisgender women.
15.3 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal men in the justice system
- 15.3.1 Number and rate of unique adult male alleged offenders processed by police.
- 15.3.2 Average daily number and rate of Aboriginal men under corrections supervision in prison and community corrections.
- 15.3.3 Proportion of men who return to prison under sentence within two years of release.
- 15.3.4 Proportion of men in prison on remand.
In 2019-20, as in previous years, Aboriginal men were over-represented as alleged offenders, processed by police at around 6 times the rate of non-Aboriginal men.
Between 2007-08 and 2018-19, the average daily number of Aboriginal men under both community-based supervision and in prison significantly increased, more than doubling for community-based supervision and tripling in prison. In 2018-19, Aboriginal men were around 14 times more likely to be under corrections supervision in prison and nearly 10 times more likely to be on community-based supervision, when compared with non-Aboriginal men.
The proportion of Aboriginal men returning to prison under sentence within two years of release has not changed significantly in the last decade. Over the same time, the proportion of non-Aboriginal men returning to prison under sentence within two years of release has increased, from 34.9% to 43.4%. The rate of return for Aboriginal men continues to be higher than that for non-Aboriginal men (in 2018-19, 51.9% of Aboriginal men returned to prison under sentence within two years of release compared to 43.4% of non-Aboriginal men).
Similar to the young people and female cohorts, the increasing rates of incarceration of Aboriginal men is partly driven by a higher proportion of offenders being held on remand. From 2007-08 to 2018-19, the proportion of Aboriginal men on remand in prison nearly doubled. While there has also been an increase in the proportion of non-Aboriginal men in prison who are on remand, higher proportions of Aboriginal men continue to be held on remand in prison when compared with non-Aboriginal men.
Goal 16: Aboriginal Victorian have access to safe and effective justice services
16.1 Increase Aboriginal Victorians’ participation in culturally safe and effective justice prevention, early intervention, diversion and support programs
- 16.1.1 Number and proportion of Aboriginal youth receiving intensive bail support through the Koorie Intensive Support Program.
- 16.1.2 Number and proportion of Aboriginal adults receiving intensive bail support.
- 16.1.3 Number of Aboriginal young people accessing community support programs through youth justice community services.
In 2019-20, 81 Aboriginal young people received intensive support through the Koorie Intensive Support Program, a decrease from 111 in 2018-19. Of these young people, 11 (or 13.6%) received intensive bail support in 2019-20, a decrease from 27 (or 24.3%) in the previous year. One of the potential reasons behind this reduction stems from lower overall numbers entering the Youth Justice system, particularly during the second half of the 2019-20 financial year. In addition, being a relatively new data measure, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of any ‘natural’ variation that might have impacted year-on-year movement.
In 2019-20, 234 Aboriginal adults (18 years and above) received intensive bail support through the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP), which represents 50.8 per cent of Aboriginal adults referred.
It is to be noted that the average acceptance rate onto CISP is 50 per cent across all programs. There are a number of reasons why an individual may not have been accepted onto CISP including:
- nature of offence
- recommended for community referral
- declined to participate
- denied bail and therefore not accepted onto the program as part of bail condition.
In 2019-20, 502 Aboriginal children and young people (10-17 years) participated in Aboriginal community support programs. This includes all Aboriginal specific programs funded by DJCS. It is to be noted that DJCS commenced collecting data for this measure from 2020.
Goal 17: Aboriginal Victorian feel safe and connected
17.1 Increase community safety and trust in police and the justice system
- 17.1.1 Proportion of police officers who have received Aboriginal cultural awareness training.
- 17.1.4 Number and proportion of Aboriginal people employed across the justice system.
Aboriginal Victorians continue to face structural barriers including racism, discrimination and unconscious bias. Ensuring that the police and corrections workforces have Aboriginal representation and that all staff complete cultural awareness training is an important part of improving justice outcomes.
As at 30 June 2020, 15.5% of police officers had received Aboriginal cultural awareness training. This is an increase from nine per cent at the same time the previous year.
Since 2007-08, the number of Aboriginal people employed across the justice system has increased significantly. Due to these increases, the proportion of Aboriginal people employed across DJCS and Court Services Victoria now exceeds the Victorian public sector target of 2% by 2022.
Preventing Aboriginal deaths in custody
2021 marks the 30-year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). The Commission found while Aboriginal people died in custody at similar rates to non-Aboriginal people, they were far more likely to be in prison than non-Aboriginal people. Racism and social, economic and other systemic inequalities were the most significant factors contributing to Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system.
Since its release in 1991, Victoria has taken action to implement responses to RCIADIC recommendations. While the Department of Justice and Community Safety has undertaken a broad range of actions under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement and related reforms, there were 3 Aboriginal deaths in prison custody between July 2018 and June 2020.
Although the Coroner determined that the cause of death was natural for all three cases, this has highlighted that more work needs to be done to ensure our justice system is safe and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal people.
To this end, the Victorian Government continues to work with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus to identify reform opportunities that address Aboriginal over-representation in custody and implement the remaining RCIADIC recommendations in a way that meets the intent of the recommendations. Aboriginal leadership in overseeing the implementation of RCIADIC remains critical.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
The Aboriginal Justice Agreement, or AJA, is a formal partnership between the Aboriginal community and the Victorian Government to improve justice outcomes by addressing over-representation in the justice system and improving family and community safety.
The AJA was established in 2000 as a response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The fourth phase of AJA – Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, launched in August 2018, is an inter-generational plan to close the gap in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal justice outcomes by 2031.
In partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, the Victorian Government is currently progressing an extensive range of actions under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja to improve justice outcomes for Aboriginal people. Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja is supported through a $40.3 million investment over five years to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians in contact with the justice system.
Key investments across 2020 include:
$40.2 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for people experiencing or at risk of family violence. The package includes targeted funding for ACCOs to meet additional demand for family violence case management and crisis support.
$670,000 to support Aboriginal specific family violence services to adapt service delivery in response to the impacts of coronavirus including out of hours phone support services.
Combined Victorian Government funding of $402,000 and Commonwealth funding of $475,000 to VALS and Djirra to enhance IT capacity, ensuring service continuity and compliance with the Chief Health Officer’s direction during the pandemic.
$1 million Building Works Package grants to support ACCOs to upgrade community facilities and assist with economic stimulus.
Ongoing support for community-based justice programs totaling over $16 million including:
- local Justice Worker Programs in 20 ACCOS around Victoria
- culturally appropriate family violence legal services through VALS and Djirra
- development of Aboriginal led family centred, restorative justice, and collaborative impact program models
- family violence prevention programs for women and young people
- men’s behaviour change and healing programs
- redevelopment of Baroona Youth Healing service as an alternative to remand for young people
- three community-based diversion programs for young people
- Aboriginal Community Justice Panels in 15 metropolitan and regional areas
- Koori Women’s Diversion Programs in four locations
- Koori Night Patrols in two regional areas
- independent policy and secretariat support to the Aboriginal Justice Caucus.
Key actions across 2020 include
Youth Justice Act
DJCS is developing the Youth Justice Act, in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and the Aboriginal Youth Justice Act Working Group, which consists of members of the Caucus and other Aboriginal community organisations. The Caucus made several legislative reform proposals that were considered by government for inclusion in the Youth Justice Act. In response, the following measures will be considered for the Youth Justice Act:
- new principles to guide all acts, decisions made and exercise of power under the legislation that impact Aboriginal children and young people, including promoting the right of Aboriginal Victorians to self-determination and supporting an Aboriginal-led Youth Justice system
- a statement of recognition that Aboriginal children and young people are
- over-represented in the Youth Justice system, and that inequality and structural racism are key drivers of this over-representation
- new obligations for the Secretary in DJCS in relation to self-determination, including requiring the Secretary to develop strategic partnerships with Aboriginal communities and to enable the progressive transfer of authority, resources and responsibilities to an Aboriginal-controlled justice system.
Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy
The Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy (Strategy) is being developed in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus (Caucus) in line with the principles of self-determination enshrined in Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja. Caucus has identified five key domains in the Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy critical to addressing over-representation and furthering self-determination to progress their vision for an end-to-end Aboriginal community-controlled youth justice system, including:
- work toward an Aboriginal-led justice response
- empower young people and community to uphold change
- protect cultural rights and increase cultural safety in the current justice system
- address intergenerational trauma and support healing
- reduce over representation and provide alternatives to custody.
Koori Youth Justice Taskforce
The Koori Youth Justice Taskforce focused on a strengths-based approach to understand how to address the systemic issues contributing to the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system. The Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) conducted a parallel inquiry: Our Youth Our Way into the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system. A combined Taskforce and Inquiry report was tabled in Parliament by CCYP on 9 May 2021.
Establishment of a new Youth Justice Budget Paper 3 (BP3) target
In 2020-21, the Minister for Youth Justice set a new BP3 target in the 2021/22 Victorian Budget to further reduce the number of Aboriginal children in custody on an average day. The target aims for there to be between 14 to 18 Aboriginal children aged 10-17 years in detention on any average day. DJCS has been working in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Forum and communities to achieve this target.
Implementation of Community Corrections Service initiatives – Moving towards an Aboriginal community-controlled Community Corrections
Under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, DJCS is considering opportunities to move towards greater Aboriginal community control in community corrections and build and strengthen the compliance of Aboriginal adults on community-based orders.
Continuity of Health Care Pilot Program
The Continuity of Aboriginal Health Care (CoC) pilot is an initiative under the Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Plan (ASEWP) and a commitment under the AJA4. The program comprises 2 components: in-reach services within the prison health clinic and out-reach follow-up on release from prison. The aim of the program is to create stronger links between prison and community health services, increase prisoner engagement in the management of their health needs, and encourage continued health engagement on release into the community.
Decriminalising public drunkenness and implementing an alternative public health response
In December the Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020 was introduced to Parliament. As a first stage of the reform, the Bill will repeal the public drunkenness offences in the Summary Offences Act 1966 with an effective commencement date of November 2022.
DJCS is working with DHHS on the next implementation stage of the reforms so that by the time decriminalisation takes effect a well-designed, collaborative and culturally safe public health model will be in place across the state. This includes working closely with the community – including the Aboriginal community and other key stakeholders – to design and implement the public health model and deliver these important reforms.
Establishing a Legislated Spent Convictions Scheme
The Spent Convictions Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into Parliament on 27 October 2020. The Bill implements the government response to recommendations by the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s report, Inquiry into a Legislated Spent Convictions Scheme.
The Bill provides for an application process where serious offences can be spent after application to the Magistrates’ Court. When hearing an application, among other factors, the Magistrate can take into account the unique systemic and background factors affecting Aboriginal people. This includes specific factors relating to incarceration of Aboriginal people, and the impacts of disclosure of a criminal record for Aboriginal people.
Early intervention and rehabilitation to divert children from the criminal justice system
The Victorian Government is focusing on early intervention and rehabilitation to help reduce youth crime and reoffending and is actively working to divert children from the criminal justice system.
The government’s Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-2030 released in May 2020 commits to age appropriate responses for 10 to 14 year olds to keep them out of the youth justice system. DJCS is reviewing existing alternative non-justice responses for 10 to 14 year olds with the aim to analyse and understand how this cohort could be dealt with outside the justice system.
Culture and Country
The richness and diversity of Aboriginal history and culture in Victoria and the resilience and strength of Aboriginal communities and peoples, is something for all Victorians to celebrate.
Our shared commitment
The promotion of the rights and responsibilities under section 19(2) of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Victorian Aboriginal communities and peoples are culturally diverse, with rich and varied languages, traditions, and histories. Aboriginal Victorians hold distinct cultural rights, including the right to maintain their spiritual, material, and economic relationship with their traditional lands and waters and continue to strengthen and grow with the resurgence of language, lore, and cultural knowledge.
The richness and diversity of Aboriginal history and culture in Victoria, and the resilience and strength of past and present Aboriginal communities and peoples is something for all Victorians to acknowledge and celebrate.
Goal 18: Aboriginal land, water and cultural rights are realised
18.1 Increase the recognition and enjoyment of Aboriginal land, water and cultural heritage rights
- 18.1.1 Area of Crown land with native title determinations and/or Recognition and Settlement Agreements.
- 18.1.2 Work of the State in advancing the treaty process.
- 18.1.3 Number of Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAP) that have submitted a notice of intention to enter into an Aboriginal cultural heritage land management agreement.
- 18.1.4 Number of Whole of Country Plans published.
- 18.1.5 Number of Joint Management Plans and area of land covered.
- 18.1.6 Number of cultural burns conducted.
- 18.1.7 Number of formal partnership agreements for planning and management between Aboriginal communities and key water and catchment agencies.
In Victoria there are 3 different processes through which Aboriginal people can seek the formal recognition of the State as Traditional Owners of their ancestral Country:
- Native title determination under the Native Title Act 1993.
- Traditional Owner settlement under the Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (TOS Act).
- Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAP) under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Heritage Act).
In 2019-20, native title is recognised across 14,899 square kilometres of land. A further 50,976 square kilometres of land is recognised under TOS Act agreements, which is a significant increase from 30,766 square kilometres in 2018-19.
Advancing the treaty process
The Victorian Government has committed to advancing treaty with Aboriginal Victorians as an essential step in enabling self-determination. Victoria is currently in phase 2 of a 3-phase treaty process. In July 2020, the Victorian Government also committed to a truth and justice process to formally recognise past wrongs and address ongoing injustices experienced by Aboriginal Victorians. This work will be led by the independent Yoo-rrook Justice Commission, announced on 9 March 2021.
Aboriginal cultural heritage land management agreements
One avenue for recognising Aboriginal land, water and cultural heritage rights is through the establishment of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Land Management Agreements (ACHLMAs). ACHLMAs are designed to facilitate a proactive, holistic approach to managing and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage and landscape. In 2019-20, 2 RAPs submitted an intention to enter an ACHLMA.
Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Land Management Agreement
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) manages and maintains thousands of kilometres of forest roads and tracks on Gunaikurnai Country. Along this road network, there are over 500 known cultural heritage sites. GLaWAC and DELWP have entered into an ACHLMA for road and track maintenance within State Forest where DELWP is the land and road manager.
Development of the ACHLMA was guided by key principles, including respect for and recognition of GLaWAC as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of their cultural heritage, and empowering GLaWAC to be the decision makers in respect of their cultural heritage. This ACHLMA is a significant milestone for both GLaWAC and DELWP, respecting the principles of self-determination for the Gunaikurnai and meeting the operational requirements of DELWP.
Whole of Country Plans
Whole of Country Plans are overarching, long-term visions, developed by Traditional Owner groups, that set out clear goals and priorities, principles of engagement and measures of success in caring for Country. There are currently a total of nine Whole of Country Plans published in Victoria.
Joint management plans
There are 3 joint management plans with three Traditional Owner groups in Victoria, covering a total of 1225.75 kilometres squared, spanning 17 parks and reserves, as follows:
- Gunaikurnai, joint management plan over ten parks and reserves in the Gippsland region,
- Dja Dja Wurrung, joint management plan for six parks and reserves in the Central West, and
- Yorta Yorta with a joint management plan for Barmah National Park in the Riverina region.
Joint management plans provide the strategic direction for the management of Country (public parks and reserves) subject to joint management arrangements between Traditional Owners and the State Government. Joint management arrangements and the development of joint management plans are delivered under Traditional Owner Land Management Agreements.
A key attribute of joint management plans is that they integrate Traditional Owner knowledge and care for Country into the management of the parks and reserves subject to the plan. The plans are developed by a Traditional Owner Land Management Board, which is established by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change and comprises a majority of Traditional Owners. A joint management plan replaces any prior park management plans.
Joint management can involve the transfer of legal title to the land from the Government to Traditional Owners, where joint management occurs as part of a Recognition and Settlement Agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. Where this occurs, the title is a modified form of freehold title referred to as Aboriginal Title. The parks and reserves under joint management with Gunaikurnai and Dja Dja Wurring are all Aboriginal Title lands.
Cultural burning assists in maintaining the land for future generations and reconnecting Aboriginal people with their history and culture. In the twelve months to June 2020, Traditional Owners conducted eight cultural burns with the support of Victorian Government agencies. This is a significant increase from the previous year (5 in total) and highlights the critical role of Traditional Owners in fire management, particularly in light of the recent 2019-20 bushfire crisis.
Water and catchment partnerships
Traditional Owner Corporations hold significant rights to the land and have cultural obligations to manage traditional lands and waters. They are equal partners in ensuring catchment health. In many cases, Traditional Owners’ rights over Crown land and waterways are recognised in settlement agreements (covering more than 40 parks and reserves) and governance arrangements to ensure their perspectives, knowledge and interests are valued.
In 2016, the Victorian Government released Water for Victoria, a plan for a future with less water as Victoria responds to the impact of climate change and a growing population. The plan commits to recognising Aboriginal values and objectives of water, including Aboriginal values and traditional ecological knowledge in water planning, supporting Aboriginal access to water for economic development, and building capacity to increase Aboriginal participation in water management.
This commitment was supported with $9.7 million in funding to partner with Traditional Owner and nation groups to explore Aboriginal water values, and accessing water for economic development. This has seen a significant increase in the number of partnerships during the reporting period.
As of June 2020, there were 90 active and ongoing partnership agreements between Traditional Owner groups and key water catchment agencies to promote Aboriginal values and traditional ecological knowledge in water planning and management.
Goal 19: Aboriginal culture and language are supported and celebrated
19.1 Support the preservation, promotion and practice of culture and language
- 19.1.1 Participation in community events which celebrate Aboriginal culture.
- 19.1.2 Investment in Aboriginal language and culture revitalisation programs.
Past government policies of dispossession and assimilation have led to a decline in Aboriginal cultural practice and language transmission. Despite this, the strength and resilience of Aboriginal Victorians has helped maintain language and culture, which continue to be practiced and passed on to future generations.
Connectedness to culture and community strengthens individual and collective identities, and promotes positive self-esteem, resilience and improved outcomes for Aboriginal people.
While cultural identity is central to the lives of Aboriginal Victorians, all Victorians should celebrate and take pride in Aboriginal culture and language.
The below table outlines standalone Aboriginal language and culture revitalisation initiatives supported by the Victorian Government. Significant government investment in language and culture revitalisation is also embedded in many of the foundational programs and services delivered by ACCOs, such as kinship family finding, return to Country and cultural camps.
|Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT)||The Victorian Government provides funding to KHT for core operations, family history services and an oral history program. KHT offers various services, including Aboriginal history and culture exhibitions, Aboriginal art galleries, cultural tours, cultural awareness training and a retail shop selling handmade cultural items.|
|Connecting Home Limited (CHL)|
The Victorian Government provides funding to CHL for continued services to address the effects of forced removal, giving effect to the ongoing commitment to implement the recommendations of the Bringing them home report and respond to the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.
|Cultural Markers Project|
The Victorian Government provides support for the Cultural Markers project which aims to increase visibility of Aboriginal people and culture in Victoria via the use of Cultural Markers. Usually, Cultural Markers are a plaque of some kind, a sign and/or statue. The project will attract cutting edge technology from the Start-up Industry to create markers that Aboriginal Victoria (AV) hopes to establish throughout Melbourne CBD and regions. AV hopes the Cultural Markers become a standout tourist attraction and produce educational, economic and tourism partnerships that engage members of the public and bring to the forefront the wealth of Aboriginal culture that is alive, active, living and breathing in the state of Victoria.
|Reconciliation Victoria (RecVic)|
The Victorian Government provides funding to RecVic to delivering of a range of activities that promote reconciliation within the community.
|Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust (LTAT)|
The Victorian Government provides funding to LTAT to deliver municipal and essential services to its residents. This funding supports the management of LTAT’s land, water and built environment, as well as the preservation of cultural heritage.
|Taungurung Land and Waters Council (TLaWC)||The Victorian Government provided funding to TLaWC to organise and host four camps of cultural strengthening and language revival activities at Camp Jungai for Taungurung people. These activities included learning, teaching and performing cultural dance and ceremony, and cultural guidance with Men’s and Women’s business, guided by Elders within the community. Taungurung Elders were invited to host fireside talks, share cultural knowledge and speak about life experiences to the community including young people. The four camps held over the year sparked more interest within the community to learn Taungurung language. This was considered by the TLaWC Board which led to the formation of the Taungurung Language Reference Group, with a view of developing a language program and language revitalisation.|
Goal 20: Racism is eliminated
20.1 Address and eliminate racism
- 20.1.2 Prevalence of racist attitudes against Aboriginal Victorians held by the Victorian community.
The Victorian Government acknowledges that Australia, including Victoria, has its own sorry history of violence and racism, and that the structures and systems established during colonisation deliberately excluded Aboriginal people and their lore, customs and traditions. Systemic and structural racism still exists today, and has contributed to the over-representation of Aboriginal people in Victoria’s justice and child protection systems. Racism continues to significantly impact Aboriginal people across all areas of their lives, including their health and wellbeing.
One indicator of racism experienced by Aboriginal Victorians is formal complaints made to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC). In 2018-19, three complaints were made to the VEOHRC about racial discrimination towards Aboriginal Victorians. While this follows a positive trend (there were 15 reports in 2016-17 and nine in 2017-18), it is important to recognise that this data is only a measure of formal reports made to VEOHRC and does not capture unreported racism.
The Victorian Government is working with the VEOHRC to improve mechanisms for reporting racism, including through the development of a community reporting tool that simplifies reporting and is accessible through local government and community organisation websites.
Given its wide-ranging impacts, it is important that we continue to identify other ways of measuring the prevalence of racism.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
The Victorian Government is committed to tackling racism in our society, including addressing and eliminating racism directed toward Aboriginal Victorians. The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission and the Anti-Racim Taskforce and Strategy are important elements of this work.
It is anticipated that the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will investigate both historical and ongoing injustices, including racism, committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation by the State and non-State entities, across all areas of social, political and economic life. Truth telling and truth listening can help non-Aboriginal Victorians to confront unconscious bias and structural racism. The Commission is expected to commence in July 2021, with its final report due three years after establishment.
In November 2020, the Victorian Government committed to establish an Anti-Racism Taskforce to guide the development of a new Anti-Racism Strategy, due to be launched in March 2022. In 2020/21, $1.4 million was provided to deliver this work, including $0.065 million to support the Taskforce’s establishment.
The Taskforce’s membership will reflect the diversity of Aboriginal and multicultural communities and their experiences. Members will be selected on the basis of their professional skills, experience and expertise in areas directly relevant to the scope of the Taskforce, with two positions designated for Aboriginal members. Government is working collaboratively to ensure that in the establishment of the Taskforce, membership appropriately reflects not only lived experience of racism, but an understanding of power dynamics, unconscious bias and privilege, and how these result in structural racism.
The Victorian Government is also committed to Aboriginal self-determination, cultural safety, cultural revitalisation and working in partnership with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to manage culture and country through Pupangarli Marnmarnepu (owning our future) – DELWP’s Self-Determination Reform Strategy. Pupangarli Marnmarnepu acknowledges Aboriginal Victorians have the right to make choices that best reflect them on their journey to self-determination; that it is our responsibility to partner with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to advance self-determination by committing to delivering real outcomes and following Traditional Owner leads.
Key investments in 2020-21 include
$10 million to provide immediate support and funding for cultural strengthening and celebration through the Aboriginal COVID-19 Response Fund. The Fund was designed as part of the $23 million COVID-19 response package to support Aboriginal Victorians through the pandemic and supports self-determination by putting decision-making power back in the hands of Aboriginal communities.
$18 million to improve recognition and management of water by Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians through the Water, Country and Community Program. Water, Country, and Community is a continuation of the Victorian Aboriginal Water Program and has been developed through learnings from the first four years. The funding will be distributed over four years (2020 to 2024), through different funding rounds and amounts. Funding is available for Aboriginal Water Officers, the Aboriginal Water Officer Network, and projects, research, and resources to start and/or continue to better understand, document and progress Aboriginal access and management requirements to water, for self-determined purposes.
$1.25 million for Advanced bushfire management: Aboriginal Cultural Fire Leadership to enable Traditional Owner groups to lead the implementation of the Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy. This work directly contributes to the implementation of the VAAF and Pupangarli Marnmarnepu.
$4.8 million for the Aboriginal Water Program to support the extension of existing Aboriginal Water Officers (or their equivalents) and Traditional Owner led water related projects.
$418,000 for core environmental and traditional owner program Managing Country Together. Parks Victoria will deliver a range of core services for land and management services in partnership with Traditional Owners to address the increasing impact of climate change, particularly with the increased length, intensity and impact of fire seasons as well as ensuring compliance with laws to protect Aboriginal Heritage.
Key actions across 2020 include
Bushfire biodiversity response and recovery - maximising long term resilience
In response to the 2019-20 bushfires, funding has been provided to nine Traditional Owner Groups impacted by the bushfires to undertake activities within and adjacent to the current fire extent to read and heal Country and species of cultural significance using cultural knowledge and practices. To maximise long term resilience, $2.05 million has been provided until June 2021 with further extension of this funding expected to June 2023.
The Aboriginal Access to Water Roadmap (roadmap)
The roadmap delivers on the policy commitment made through Water for Victoria with funding provided to the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owners Corporations to lead this work in partnership with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations. The roadmap contributes to self-determination by identifying opportunities for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to access water, manage and own water for spiritual, cultural, environmental and social economic purposes.
Forest Modernisation Program
Funding totalling $1.2 million to support Traditional Owner Corporations’ capacity to facilitate or lead any collective and common policy and project initiatives related to the Forest Fire and Regions Groups land management portfolio.
Sea Country Project
In line with a self-determination approach, funding of $480,000 supports Traditional Owner involvement in marine and coastal planning and management, including sea and country plans, 2-way capacity and capability building, and restoration of marine and coastal cultural knowledge and practice.
Traditional Owner Ranger Programs
Traditional Owner Ranger Programs are tailored to the specific needs of each individual Traditional Owner Group Entity (TOGE) and their jointly managed Crown lands:
- The Gunaikurnai TOS Act Agreement package provided $1.031 million to fund the direct employment eight Gunaikurnai Rangers to work on the 10 jointly-managed Gunaikurnai parks and reserves in Gippsland in 2020-21
- The Taungurung TOS Act Agreement package provided $1.305 million to fund the direct employment six Taungurung Rangers (seconded to Parks Victoria) to work on nine jointly-managed Taungurung parks and reserves in North East Victoria
- The Dja Dja Wurrung TOS Act Agreement package provided $358,000 to fund Parks Victoria’s employment of three Dja Dja Wurrung Rangers to work on the six jointly-managed parks and reserves in Central Victoria in 2020-21
- The State’s Economic Stimulus Funding Program provided Parks Victoria with $636,480 in 2020-21 for the employment of four Yorta Yorta Joint Management rangers, including salary and training costs, and an operating budget for priority on ground works. It also provided Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation with $155,150 for a Joint Management Coordinator to act as a liaison between Yorta Yorta National Aboriginal Corporation and Parks Victoria and oversee the new Joint Management rangers.
Traditional Owner Renewable Energy Program (TOREP)
The Traditional Owner Renewable Energy Program (TOREP) will make a total investment of $1.1 million available as grant funding to all 11 of Victoria's current RAPs, to enable the empowerment of Traditional Owners to self-determine how they want to be part of Victoria’s renewable energy transition.
Next steps, about this report and the collation of data, improving Aboriginal data quality, and accessibility and glossary.
Measures not features in this report
This report does not include reference to the measures listed below as no new data is available since they were reported in 2019 report. The most recent data for these measures can be found on the online Data Dashboard.
Children, Family and Home
- Measure 3.2.1 Proportion of households who had reliable access to sufficient food in previous 12 months.
- Measure 3.2.2 Proportion of households with less than 50 per cent median equivalised income.
- Measure 3.2.3 Proportion of households experiencing rental stress.
- Measure 3.2.4b Proportion of Victorians who are homeless and proportion of clients accessing homelessness services.
- Measure 3.2.5 Proportion living in overcrowded dwellings.
Learning and Skills
- Measure 4.1.3 Proportion of children vulnerable on one or more domain on the Australian Early Development Census.
- Measure 5.2.5b Number of school‑based Aboriginal education workers (FTE positions) (at 30 June 2018).
- Measure 6.1.1 Proportion of young people aged 20-24 with Year 12 or equivalent.
- Measure 7.1.2 Proportion of 17-24-year-old school leavers participating in full-time education and training and/or employment.
- Measure 7.1.4 Proportion of 20-64 year old with qualifications at Certificate III level or above.
Opportunity and Prosperity
- Measure 8.1.1 Median household income and median equivalized household income.
- Measure 8.2.1 Proportion of homeowners versus other tenure types (by age bracket).
- Measure 8.3.1 Number of Victorian business owner‑managers who are Aboriginal.
- Measure 9.1.1 Employment to population ratio.
- Measure 9.1.2 Proportion employed in full-time versus part-time or casual employment.
- Measure 9.2.1 Workforce participation of women.
- Measure 9.3.1 Workforce participation by age, disability status and regional versus metropolitan.
- Measure 9.4.1 Aboriginal employment by sector, industry and occupation, with analysis by growth industry.
- Measure 10.1.1 Victoria’s Aboriginal income as sum of all income earned by Aboriginal workers.
- Measure 10.1.2 Opportunity cost: Aboriginal gross income at parity minus actual.
Health and Wellbeing
- Measure 11.1.1 Life expectancy at birth, by sex.
- Measure 11.1.4 Rate of hospitalisations for potentially preventable causes (vaccine preventable, acute, chronic and all).
- Descriptive Measure 12.1.6 Services implement strategies, partnerships and campaigns, and offer care and support that is inclusive and addresses the needs of Aboriginal people who are LGBTI.
- Measure 13.1.1 Proportion of Aboriginal Victorians reporting experiences of racism in health setting.
- Measure 13.1.2 Proportion reporting positive client experience of GP services.
- Descriptive measure 13.1.4 Number and proportion of Aboriginal people employed in the health or social services sector.
- Measure 14.1.3 Proportion reporting strong social networks they can draw on in times of crisis.
- Measure 14.1.4 Proportion of Aboriginal Victorians with a disability who have strong social support networks.
Justice and Safety
- Measure 17.1.2 Proportion who feel safe/very safe walking alone at night in local area.
- Measure 17.1.3 Proportion who have experienced any violence in the last 12 months.
- Culture and Country.
- Measure 19.1.1 Participation in community events which celebrate Aboriginal culture.
- Measure 20.1.1 Proportion of Aboriginal people who report having experienced racism in the previous 12 months.
Culture and Country
- Measure 19.1.1 Participation in community events which celebrate Aboriginal culture.
- Measure 20.1.1 Proportion of Aboriginal people who report having experienced racism in the previous 12 months.
Reviewed 01 July 2021