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How government is transforming to enable self-determination

Overview of government action under the 4 self-determination enablers.

Self-determination is a right of Aboriginal people and is key to improved outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. The SDRF was developed in 2019 to embed government’s commitment to self-determination across all areas of government, and to help fulfil the ambitious and forward-looking agenda of the VAAF. Government policies, processes and procedures can hinder self-determination, and therefore significant effort is required by government to eliminate these structural and systemic barriers and put new self-determined policies, programs and systems in place.

All government departments and agencies are required to report annually on what they are doing to action the VAAF’s 4 self-determination enablers. The 2020 Report presented examples of government actions in a standalone section but in this report the actions can be found under the relevant VAAF domain.

Despite the huge challenges faced by all during the COVID-19 pandemic, government has continued to work towards systemic and structural transformation to enable self-determination. However, some planned initiatives and commitments were put on hold whilst public sector resourcing was directed to the COVID-19 response. While this report shows there has been significant action by government, there is still a long way to go to fully realise Aboriginal self-determination.

Government action under the four self-determination enablers

Prioritise culture

Colonisation imposed settler laws and policies on Aboriginal people with the deliberate intent of excluding their lore, customs, cultures and traditions. The impacts of these laws and policies are still felt today.

Prioritising culture across government’s policies, programs and services ensures Aboriginal people can continue to share pride in their identity. Prioritising culture is also key to creating culturally safe workplaces, policies, programs and services. Creating a culturally safe environment is critical to government engaging with Aboriginal Victorians in a more respectful and inclusive way. Victoria has seen first-hand that making culture a priority in policy, program and service delivery leads to better outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Address trauma and support healing

Addressing past and ongoing trauma, preventing inter-generational trauma, and supporting healing processes are fundamental to the well-being of Aboriginal people, families and communities. This begins with acknowledging past and ongoing consequences of colonisation, dispossession, forced child removal, and other discriminatory policies. However, government must also play a key role in prioritising restorative processes, embedding trauma-informed policies and programs, reforming discriminatory laws, and developing new relationships of trust between government and Aboriginal communities. 

Address racism and promote cultural safety

To advance self-determination, government must ensure that its systems and funded services are culturally safe, relevant, accessible and responsive. Critically, government must also acknowledge and implement initiatives to overcome racism, unconscious bias and discrimination in government laws, policy, practice, systems and institutions.  

Systemic racism and unconscious bias are a primary contributor to social and economic disadvantage, such as the over-representation of Aboriginal Victorians in the criminal justice and child protection systems.  

Cultural safety refers to ‘an environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge, and experience, of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening'.

The Victorian Government is committed to services being culturally safe and responsive, whether that service is provided by an Aboriginal organisation, a government department or agency or a mainstream non-government organisation. This is a key part of transforming government organisations.

Transfer power and resources to communities  

Government must commit to self-determination by transferring power to communities and resourcing local Aboriginal organisations to lead the design, development and delivery of policies and services.  

Significant governance reform is creating new approaches of working with Aboriginal Victorians. Respectful and collaborative partnerships are an important step as government continues to shift toward community-led decision-making and resourcing. Some areas of the public service have taken steps beyond a partnership approach by moving to co-ownership or the full transfer of power and resources to Aboriginal organisations for service delivery. It is important government learns from these models, and continues to listen to community, as it builds its knowledge and capacity to do things differently.