Wergaia and Wamba Wamba elder Eleanor Bourke is acutely aware of how intently First Nations communities round Australia are watching Victoria’s truth-telling fee
She’s even been warned: “Don’t muck it up.”
As chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Prof Bourke is main Australia’s first formal truth-telling inquiry for previous and ongoing systemic injustices skilled by First Nations folks.
“Treaty is on the agenda in other places – and they are watching us, our brothers and sisters elsewhere,” she says whereas launching the inquiry in Melbourne on Thursday.
As Victoria begins the Indigenous-led technique of documenting the continued results of colonisation on Aboriginal folks, there are hopes its work might propel the momentum constructing in different states and territories for truth-telling processes and treaties.
Yoorrook has a mandate to analyze and doc previous and current injustices in opposition to the state’s First Nations folks, together with by the state and non-government our bodies. While it’s impartial from the state’s First Peoples’ Assembly – the physique elected by the state’s Indigenous folks to assist develop a treaty – the fee will assist inform the settlement’s framework.
Co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Aunty Geraldine Atkinson says Yoorrook is central to the negotiation of the state’s treaty.
“We can’t have a treaty without the truth being told ,” she tells Guardian Australia.
“We want a commission to make recommendations to ensure we get a good outcome for the Aboriginal community. It’s about looking for justice for the Stolen Generation and all those people who were misplaced, for the genocide that was committed.”
The fee’s graduation comes after many years of calls – most notably within the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart – for Australia to decide to a proper truth-telling course of.
The Victorian inquiry – geared up with the facility of a royal fee – is modelled on South Africa’s post-apartheid hearings. Similar processes have been held in New Zealand and Canada. But whereas these inquiries have been nationwide, Yoorrook shall be restricted to investigating the injustices skilled by Victoria’s First Nations neighborhood.
Sue-Anne Hunter, deputy chair of the fee, believes a state-by state strategy is greatest apply for truth-telling as a result of every jurisdiction was “colonised differently”.
“We’re all different peoples. We have different cultural practices,” she tells Guardian Australia.
Hunter says a few of the inquiry’s hearings “on country” would happen close to the New South Wales-Victorian border. “If that’s where the truth takes us of what’s happened to our people, that’s where we’ll go,” she says.
But Hunter believes truth-telling hearings in different jurisdictions might inform a nationwide treaty.
In different components of Australia, momentum is constructing on this house.
South Australia’s newly elected Labor authorities has dedicated to a separate voice, treaty and fact course of, after former premier Steven Marshall paused the state’s treaty negotiations in 2018. Queensland and the Northern Territory are within the early levels of a path in direction of a treaty. In Victoria, opposition chief Matthew Guy has beforehand argued a nationwide treaty was a greater strategy.
Bourke claims the commonwealth has been non-responsive on treaty and fact, given their response to the Uluru assertion – the end result of the voices of 250 First Nation elected delegates. The Morrison authorities rejected the important thing name to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament and its plans to legislate a “Voice to Government” is but to eventuate.
“They’re still talking about how to hear the Aboriginal voice. Now that’s almost archaic in the context of Victoria talking about a treaty,” Bourke says.
The Uluru manifesto requires a constitutional recognition by way of a First Nations voice to the Australian parliament. It additionally requires the creation of a Makarrata Commission to supervise the method of agreement-making between governments and First Nations folks and truth-telling about Indigenous historical past.
Federal Labor has vowed to enact the Uluru assertion in its entirety if elected.
But, for now, Victoria is the one jurisdiction that’s at present transferring on each the treaty and fact elements of the Uluru assertion.
For Bourke, it’s unsurprising that Victoria goes it alone on a truth-telling and treaty course of, given the state’s historical past of land justice over the previous thirty years.
She factors to quite a few profitable Native Title determinations within the early 2000s and the 2010 Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act. That authorized framework formally recognises conventional homeowners, outdoors the federal authorities’s native title scheme.
“All of those things made our people believe it was possible to do more ,” she says.
“Victoria was very ready [for truth-telling’]. I think in many ways, given what has happened, the early part of this century.”
The fee will goal to doc Indigenous tales from 1788 to current day in a culturally applicable manner, in an try to enhance reconciliation, educate Victorians and the broader public in regards to the state’s historical past and form Aboriginal affairs within the state’s curriculum.
It will make suggestions for redress and reform to the state authorities and First Peoples’ Assembly for injustices, from the time of colonisation by way of the stolen generations as much as the current day, detailing the remedy of Indigenous Australians.
Bourke hails this week’s launch a “momentous” event for Australia, Victoria and all First Nations folks. But senior counsel-assisting the fee Tony McAvoy acknowledges the bureaucratic challenges the inquiry would probably face. He factors to languishing suggestions from earlier inquiries, such because the royal fee into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
“Whilst we might have many expressions of political will, of good conscience, the difficulty largely lies in the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy in this state as in other states and territories in this country, is colonial,” he says.
“It’s not designed for First Nations people. So our job is a difficult one. We don’t underestimate the difficulty of the task, but that’s what we intend to do.”