'Disrespect': govt slammed for truth inquiry inaction

Callum GoddeAAP
Yoorrook's Eleanor Bourke says commissioners are disappointed with the rejection of recommendations. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconYoorrook's Eleanor Bourke says commissioners are disappointed with the rejection of recommendations. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

A raft of key recommendations to stop Aboriginal people being harmed by Victoria's criminal justice and child protection systems have been kicked down the road or flatly rejected.

The Yoorrook Justice Commission made 46 recommendations in an interim report published in September, after public hearings into the systems.

The Victorian government announced on Wednesday it had accepted four of the recommendations in full and 24 in principle.

Another 15 remain under consideration including standalone Indigenous justice and child protection systems, and a new independent police oversight body.

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The commission wants the body to investigate all complaints about police and have the power to arrest, search property and compel information from Victoria Police.

Three recommendations have been rejected outright, including the urgent introduction of legislation to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years without exceptions, and to prohibit the detention of children under 16 years.

Also knocked back was a call to change the Bail Act to create a presumption in favour of bail for all offences except murder, terrorism and the like.

Yoorrook chair Eleanor Bourke said commissioners were disappointed with the government's rejection of the recommendations, and noted they expected progress on the 15 that remain under consideration.

"Recommendations regarding the Bail Act and the minimum age of criminal responsibility and detention are crucial given the alarming over-incarceration of First Peoples adults and children, and ongoing deaths in custody," she said.

"These recommendations were not made lightly. They go to the heart of addressing ongoing injustice against First Peoples."

Additional accountability hearings might be called later in 2024 to force government representatives to provide updates on recommendations and their implementation, Professor Bourke said.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service said the government's response was "unworthy" of the heart-wrenching truths told to the commission, and did not give the community confidence it would honour its treaty commitment.

"We have waited over 210 days for the Victorian government to respond to the Yoorrook for Justice Report and it reads like it was slapped together overnight," chief executive Nerita Waight said.

"It is so disappointing that the Victorian government did not take this more seriously and develop a more detailed response that supported in full all recommendations."

She said it felt like "paralysis" had set into the government since Jacinta Allan took over from Daniel Andrews as premier, pointing to promises being delayed or shelved.

First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria co-chair Ngarra Murray was frustrated by the same old sticking points arising and disappointed with the "disrespect" shown to community members who participated in the truth-telling process.

"We know that unfair laws and policing practices hit Aboriginal people the hardest and are particularly harmful to our young children when they get caught up in the youth justice system," she said.

"So the government's stubbornness when it comes to the slow timeline for raising the age is very frustrating.

"We won't let it rest."

Aboriginal people are all too familiar with promises written in the sand, fellow assembly co-chair Rueben Berg said.

Treaty and First Peoples Minister Natalie Hutchins thanked those who had taken part in or appeared before the inquiry.

"Treaty and truth, led by Aboriginal people, is the best way to deliver improved outcomes and close the gap," she said.

Yoorrook is due to hand down its final report in 2025.

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