Victoria Legal Aid

Landmark First Nations report to be a ‘catalyst for change’

Victoria’s Indigenous truth-telling commission has made 46 recommendations to overhaul our child protection and criminal justice systems.

Monday 4 September 2023 6:50am

Key points

  • It is the first time recommendations by a truth-telling commission have been put to government.
  • We back the commission’s principal call for self-determination.
  • In child protection, we support its recommendations to expand Marram-Ngala Ganbu, the removal of time limits for family reunification and equal powers for the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.
  • In criminal justice reform, we welcome an independent police oversight system, and immediately raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.
  • We acknowledge the role we play in these systemic injustices and will take action to meaningfully address our failures.

‘It is critical that government understands and applies the full meaning of self-determination if the commitments it has made are to be realised. Otherwise, the necessary transformation of the child protection and criminal justice system cannot occur.’ – Yoorrook Chair Eleanor Bourke

Urgent action is needed across both the child protection and criminal justice systems so they are accountable and responsive to First Nations communities, and uphold their human rights.

Today we welcome the release of the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s report as a landmark step towards addressing the systemic failures experienced by First Peoples every day in our state systems.

‘This is a critical moment for us as a community, as Victorians, to understand the truth and depth of harms caused to First Peoples by state systems as laid out by the commission’s report,’ said CEO Louise Glanville.

‘This is now one of the first opportunities to respond to a truth-telling commission – as proposed by the Uluru Statement – we need to listen and collectively, be ready to support transformational change and heed the voices of First Peoples.’

Through our practice experience working in and out of courtrooms every day, we see how the criminal justice and child protection systems continue to fail First Nations communities and create or compound disadvantage.

Victoria Legal Aid is a major provider criminal and child protection legal services statewide.

Victoria Legal Aid provides culturally inclusive services, with support from First Nations lawyers, legal assistants and Aboriginal Community Engagement Officers available around the state.

Want to contribute to the Yoorrook Justice Commission? We can help you to lodge a submission through our free Legal Help phoneline and webchat, or through the specialist Lotjpa Independent Legal ServiceExternal Link .

That First Nations peoples, their lives and their futures continue to be debated in an effort to improve social and economic outcomes places a significant burden on their communities, and we acknowledge and praise their strength and resilience.

The commission’s Yoorrook for Justice reportExternal Link outlines 46 recommendations for reform, including a call to embed First Nations peoples’ right to self-determination in both the criminal justice and child protection systems.

Acting Director, First Nations Services, Kye Hardie said our next steps as a community will set an example for others.

‘This is a fundamental test for us at a critical time – are we ready to listen to the voices of Aboriginal communities that gave evidence to the commission?’ he asked.

‘And will we act?

‘We have got to come together to say this is not what we want as a community, that we need to change the course and transform our colonial structures so they start seeing us, helping us and working with us, like they’re meant to.’

Child protection reform – the past is ever present

We support the report’s calls for changes to child protection laws and the system more broadly, to prioritise early intervention led by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

Earlier support for families would help keep First Nations children out of the system and prevent issues from escalating once they’re there.

‘This report identifies in stark detail how, rather than protecting children from harm – far too often the child protection system is funnelling children, sometimes from birth, into contact with police and criminal justice systems,’ said Joanna Fletcher, Executive Director, Family, Youth and Children’s Law.

‘It lays bare how systemic racism continues throughout today’s child protection system, causing great mistrust and deeply unequal outcomes for First Nations children.

‘It makes necessary transformative recommendations for a truly self-determined system to be developed, underpinned by human and cultural rights, to support First Nations families to stay together and thrive.’

The report recognises the way the rigid timeframes for family reunification introduced under the Permanency Amendments have unfairly affected First Nations families and driven more children into out-of-home care.

We strongly support recommendations to reinstate the Children’s Court ability to make decisions in the best interests of children without time-limits on reunification, and agree that a state-wide Children’s Court is the most appropriate place to determine child protection matters.

Our lawyers have seen the benefit to our First Nations clients of Marram-Ngala GanbuExternal Link , a specialist Koori court hearing day, and we back its expansion statewide so that the court can provide a more holistic and culturally safe space for First Nations families.

The commission has also recognised that much more work must be done to implement the Framework to Reduce the Criminalisation of Young People in Residential Care and that independent monitoring of the Framework, through the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, is needed.

Next steps for criminal law reform

The report sets out the inexcusable failures in our criminal justice system and their origins in colonial laws and institutions.

It is essential reading for every Victorian.

We support the need for both transformative change and urgent reform to address these injustices and build a fairer criminal justice system.

‘As the reports sets out, fundamental change in our criminal justice system will only be possible through the transfer of power and resources to First Nations communities, giving full effect to the principle of self-determination,’ said Executive Director, Criminal Law, Dan Nicholson.

We also support the need for immediate action, including a wholesale overhaul of police oversight and the way police engage with First Nations people.

While recent proposed reforms to bail and the age of criminal responsibility are steps in the right direction, the report makes clear the need for these reforms to go further and to ensure real change on the ground so that the stories and experiences First Nations peoples shared with Yoorrook are never repeated.

We will continue to work with our partners in Aboriginal legal services, the broader legal sector and government on meaningful reform, including improving access to cautions and changes to reclassify and decriminalise certain minor offences that disproportionately reinforce disadvantage.

It is the first time in our history that a government will be required to respond to findings by a truth-telling commission.

More information

For interviews or media queries, please contact Crys Ja, Senior Communications Advisor at or 0457 483 780.

Read our submissionsExternal Link to the commission

Reviewed 04 September 2023