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A self-determined approach to health, housing and education in Victoria

Read about our submission to the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s investigation into systemic injustices experienced by First Nations peoples in Victoria.

Tuesday 20 February 2024 at 9:14 pm

Foundational reforms are needed across the housing, education, disability and mental health systems to address systemic and intersecting injustices caused to First Nations peoples.

In our submission to the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s inquiry on these issues, we reaffirm our commitment to self-determined solutions to uphold the rights of First Nations peoples. 

First Nations people have the fundamental right to access healthcare, education and housing without discrimination. These systems must respect First Nations peoples’ rights to cultural identity and self-determination,’ said Chief Executive Officer Louise Glanville.

‘We must all work to uphold the right of Victorian First Nations communities to participate in, and make decisions about, all aspects of these systems and the impact they have on community members.’

The need for foundational reform in social support systems

Fundamental reform is needed to create respectful systems that provide people with the support they identify they need to feel safe and thrive. 

Through our work, and from working closely with partners including the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), we see the way that First Nations people continue to experience systemic racism and direct and indirect discrimination in the health, housing and education systems.

‘These experiences often cross over and can be compounded for Koori [First Nations] people who have previously experienced or witnessed other forms of discrimination, systemic racism and disadvantage,’ said First Nations Services Director Ashley Morris.

The harms experienced by First Nations people are disproportionate, far-reaching and intergenerational. They are the consequences of colonisation and centuries of laws and practices which have normalised the exclusion and disempowerment of First Nations people.

‘We see the impact this has on people’s social and emotional wellbeing, what happens when systems repeatedly let people down and continue to reinforce systemic racism,’ said Ashley.

Fostering anti-racist behaviours and systems

While transformational, community-led reforms are essential, there are immediate steps that should be taken to minimise harm, reduce racism and discrimination and improve the way the systems operate in Victoria. 

‘A significant priority is to take meaningful steps to increase cultural safety competence within the health, housing and education systems, as well as the child protection, law enforcement and legal systems which so often intersect,’ said Executive Director Legal Practice, Civil Justice, Access and Equity Rowan McRae.

‘This means deepening the understanding of race, racism and racial inequality through anti-racism training for people and leaders in these systems, as well as increased resourcing for First Nations service providers and expertise,’ said Rowan.

Prioritising prevention 

The intersecting injustices experienced by First Nations people can be addressed through an increased focus on and investment in prevention, informed by First Nations leadership. 

This should include supporting the social and emotional wellbeing model of care, ensuring access to culturally safe health and mental health services on Country, increasing the supply of long-term social housing and supports to sustain tenancies.

We continue to call for increased investment in and access to non-legal advocacy and solutions-focused justice approaches such as the Koori Court and Marram-Ngala Ganbu Koori Family Hearing Day, as well as mainstream solutions-focused lists like the Family Drug Treatment Court, Drug Court, Assessment and Referral Court and Neighbourhood Justice Centre. These models require additional investment in community-led housing, health and education systems to be successful. 

We support a continued focus on implementing health-based responses as an alternative to justice system involvement. Where people are in custodial settings they should have access to adequate and culturally safe health and mental health care.

Enshrining rights through strengthened commitments

We also support calls for governments to implement the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People, and reiterate our support for the re-introduction of the Disability Inclusion Bill in Victoria to promote rights and equality for people with disability.

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) should be strengthened to empower victims of racism to seek redress. The Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (Vic) should be amended to recognise the distinct cultural connection between First Nations peoples and their homes.

‘These changes would strengthen rights and lead to equitable outcomes for First Nations Victorians,’ said Rowan. 

The health, housing and education systems have an overlapping impact on people’s lives. Reforms to these systems, alongside the implementation of the Yoorrook for Justice report’s recommendations is essential.

More information

Read our Submission to the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s investigation into systemic injustice experienced by First Nations people in relation to health and healthcare, housing and homelessness, and the education system.