Yoorrook Commissioners gathered for the launch. Courtesy of ABC News, 2022.
Last month Victoria’s Yoorrook Justice Commission was officially launched. The commission is Australia’s first formal truth-telling inquiry into the injustices experienced by First Nations peoples. The commission's commencement comes after decades of calls - including the Uluru Statement From The Heart - for Australia to commit to a full investigation of these wrong-doings (The Guardian, 2022).
The commission will investigate the past and ongoing systemic injustices experienced by Victoria’s First Nations peoples, from colonisation until the present day. This investigation will have a wide scope looking into historical massacres, genocide and cultural violations of the past, as well as the injustices within healthcare, criminal justice and child protection that continue today. The launch of Yoorrook was held at the Stolen Generations Marker in Fitzroy - a permanent tribute to Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families. The event was held here in recognition of the types of wrong-doings the commission will be putting under the microscope (The Conversation, 2022).
Yoorrook Justice Commission and the First Peoples’ Assembly gathered together. Courtesy of The Conversation, 2022.
The Yoorrook Justice Commission is independent from the Victorian government and the First Peoples’ Assembly - the elected body representing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Victoria. Currently, they are in the process of developing a treaty, with the intention of using the commission's findings and recommendations to assist the treaty process (The Guardian, 2022).
Yoorrook has the same powers as a royal commission, allowing them to subpoena documents and summon witnesses. While they will not have judicial power, any alleged crimes can be referred to law enforcement. An important part of this truth-telling process will be correcting the public record about Australia being “Terra Nullius.” This is the legal concept referring to the land belonging to no one so that the British could justify colonising Australia. We of course know this isn’t true, and the inquiry will help shed further light on the truth of the British invasion (The Guardian, 2022).
The commissioners strongly believe that this inquiry will be an important part of educating all Victorians about the wrongdoings of the past, and show how truth-telling is an integral part of the healing and unifying process. In an interview with the Guardian (2022), Wurundjeri/Ngurai Illum Wurrung woman and Commission Deputy Chair Sue-Anne Hunter explained what will be involved in this healing process:
“The coming together of both histories and [the allowance for] Indigenous people to be truly heard…The history of Victoria has been told by the side of the oppressor. And when you only have one side of the story, it’s always an imbalance,”
Victoria is leading the way in truth-telling through the Yoorrook Justice Commission, and it is hoped that the rest of the states will soon follow suit. The fruition of this inquiry is a testament to all of the First Nations peoples who have fought long and hard for Indigenous rights, and for the truth to finally be told. We hope that Yoorrook can begin the healing process for First Nations Victorians, helping all Australians work towards truth, treaty and reconciliation.
If you would like to learn more about truth and treaty check out our previous articles The Importance of an Australian Indigenous Treaty and The Indigenous Voice within the Australian Constitution.