Victoria has become the first Australian jurisdiction to institute a formal truth-telling forum, with the establishment of the independent Yoo-rrook Justice Commission.
In a joint statement with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria on Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews said the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission would begin its work in the coming months.
The commission, which has been named after the Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba word for ‘truth’ and has the power of a royal commission, will investigate historical and ongoing social, political, cultural and economic injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians.
Andrews and the First Peoples’ Assembly said their partnership and the work of the commission represented a commitment to truth and to change, in recognition that “without truth, without justice, there can be no Treaty”.
“As a state, as a nation, we must do better. That means not only hearing Aboriginal voices — but actually listening to them. And taking meaningful action in order to achieve real and lasting change,” they said.
The commission will be led by experts and held in partnership with community, Andrews said.
According to an expression of interest released by the First Peoples’ Assembly, five Yoo-rrook Justice Commissioners will be appointed.
Among their duties, the commissioners will ensure the commission’s work is conducted in a culturally sensitive and trauma-informed way; consider policies that have impacted on First Peoples’ since colonisation; and make recommendations about what can be done to address past and continuing systemic injustices.
Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe told ABC radio on Tuesday that the establishment of the commission was “exciting”. She noted that Aboriginal people in Australia continue to face injustices, but the commission was a step forward to healing the nation.
“It’s time for this country to come on a journey of truth-telling, learn the truth and face the truth,” she said.
“We need to start decolonizing and make this country our own.”
She said the process would need to include the voices of the 38 Aboriginal nations in Victoria, noting that only 12 are currently represented on the Treaty assembly.
According to The Age, the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission has been modelled on the commissions established in post-apartheid South Africa, New Zealand and Canada.