Todays hearings at the Yoorrook Justice Commission ended abruptly when Professor Eleanor Bourke AM Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission made the following statement after a short break following a morning of apologies from the State Governments Legal team regarding not providing required documents that would allow the commission to proceed.
Upon returning Aunty Eleanor Bourke spoke”
The State’s response over the past few weeks to Yoorrook’s request for documents demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the truth telling process. It is more business as usual rather than engaging with First Peoples in the spirit of openness required for Victoria to truly reckon with the injustice perpetrated against First Peoples.
To date, the Yoorrook Justice Commission has accommodated many of the State’s requests for extensions to produce documents and evidence. For example, in respect of NTP--002 to NTP--005:
a. Prior to issuing those notices, requests for the extension of return dates for documents, or the staggered return of documents in tranches, have been accommodated by Yoorrook; and
b. After the Notices were issued, further extensions of time, often of several weeks, have been granted at the request of the State.
The time for rolling extensions has now passed. Yoorrook is now at a critical juncture. On the current timetable, the Commission must report on the urgent reforms that are needed in criminal justice and child protection for First Peoples by 30 June 2023, a timeframe required by the Government and written into Yoorrook’s amended Letters Patent.
Yoorrook is in a very difficult position where the Government has asked it to provide bold and transformative recommendations on urgent systemic reform in criminal justice and child protection, and yet information has not been provided allowing timely access to the material.
This is a truth and justice commission. It’s not a typical royal commission.
Truth telling does not just mean asking First Peoples to tell their stories, their truths, once again to share their pain, and heartache for everyone else’s benefit.
The State must also engage in truth telling. This means not using the legal process to avoid the truth about the treatment of First Peoples under key policies and programs.
Truth telling does not mean focusing solely on historic injustices. Indeed, Yoorrook is specially charged with inquiring into “ongoing systemic injustices perpetrated by State-Entities and Non-State Entities against First Peoples.”
The State must be willing to provide the materials required for a proper accounting of current laws, policies and practices in a timely manner. It is impossible for Yoorrook to make recommendations to address ongoing injustices without this information.
Yoorrook understands working cooperatively is the best way forward to meet its reporting obligations. Also, so that the State may be afforded procedural fairness as the Commission makes its findings and recommendations.
It is understood that there are a large number of documents that would ordinarily require legal review.
Yoorrook calls on the State to expedite this process in accordance with the Protocol.”
The following Commissioner, Sue-Anne Hunter added, “
I speak as a very proud Wurundjeri Ngarui Willam Wurung Woman and Deputy Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission. The Commission has heard from Elders and have visited First Peoples in a number of prisons and youth justice centres, We also heard from grieving families, frustrated carers, and often under-resourced organisations, we have heard of unnecessary child removals, brutality and death of our people and destruction of culture, land and spirit.
Yet as hard as its been to tell All have generously engaged with Yoorrook to share their experiences, observations and insights, in the hope of contributing to truth understanding and transformation in the state of Victoria.
The Commission has consistently heard in evidence that many previous inquiries and reports have failed First Peoples.
lengthy reports gather dust on shelves, their recommendations go unimplemented, or ineffectively implemented.
We have had to work hard to gain trust from our people to tell their truth and so we can hold the state to account.
We cannot sensibly make recommendations without the truth, we need to properly understand when and how the system failed First Peoples in the first place.
Given the history, community expectations of Yoorrook – a truth telling Royal Commission – are understandably high. To say we are extremely disappointed in the response so far from the state is an understatement. We expect more for our people.”
Commissioner Travis Lovett made the following comments.”
As Counsel Assisting have noted, a protocol was developed as between Yoorrook and the State over a period of many months, in an effort to avoid this precise situation.
The State committed to providing Yoorrook with full and timely access to relevant information including information that would ordinarily be withheld under the exceptions in the Inquiries Act.
The State agreed to avoid relying on legal mechanisms to withhold documents, except in very limited circumstances. Yet we find ourselves in the directions hearing.
We now see that of the 1860 outstanding documents that have been identified by the State to date as being responsive to NTPs NTP-002-007, NTP-002-009, NTP-002-010, NTP-002-011 and NTP-002-013, approximately 1/3 are under review for possible claims, through which they may ultimately be proposed to be withheld in part or full.
This is even before Victoria Police have advised how many documents they may propose to withhold.
The task in with which we have been charged as Yoorrrook a “royal commission” demands we have access to the documents that reveal the truth.
We have asked for and received this openness from First Peoples who have come before us.
As Commissioners and Traditional Owners, we carry the expectations of our Community along with the strength of our ancestors.
The Aboriginal community have long advocated for a Truth telling Process to document our Truths,
and we have heard from many people including the Premier and Ministers that there can be no Treaty without truth. we hear that Victoria is leading the way in Voice, Treaty and Truth telling. We need to be confident that this process and Yoorrook is respected.
This truth telling process has been constructed in a fairly formal manner. This is not the way our people usually operate but we have participated in this structure, with the expectation that transparency and openness would be reciprocated by the State.
This has not happened to date.”
All commissioners spoke in a morning that evoked such a strong response from the commission representatives that showed the resolute strength, commitment and truth telling that is the foundation of the Yoorrook Justice commission.
Today was a day that made history and if you wish to watch the stream than go to…
3KND Keeping Community Connected.