The right to self-determination of First Peoples is a collective right that is of fundamental importance under international law and especially to realising human and cultural rights. It is recognised by the State of Victoria. It is the foundation of Yoorrook’s Letters Patent and the treaty-making process underway in this state. The Victorian Government has committed to self-determination as the primary driver in First Peoples policy since 2015.

As outlined in the Letters Patent, Yoorrook Justice Commission is required to:  

“identify Systemic Injustice which currently impedes First Peoples achieving self-determination and equality and make recommendations to address them, improve State accountability and prevent continuation or recurrence of Systemic Injustice.

For Indigenous Peoples, the essence of the meaning of self-determination is the capacity to control their own destiny. The foundation for the assertion of self-determination for First Peoples is inextricably tied to their relationship to country, land and waters. It also requires ensuring all human and cultural rights of First Peoples. 

Yoorrook repeatedly heard from First Peoples’ witnesses and organisations of the need for self-determination in the child protection and criminal justice systems and some of the ways that could work. Many government witnesses spoke about how self-determination should underpin or be at the centre of reform. Accordingly, it is critical that government understands and applies the full meaning of self-determination if the commitments it has made are to be realised. Otherwise, the necessary transformation of the child protection and criminal justice system cannot occur. 

Yoorrook also heard that self-determination requires transferring decision-making power, authority, control and resources to First Peoples. It is not merely about consultation or transfer of service delivery responsibilities. It is not about transferring broken systems.  

Self-determination can be realised through treaty and interim agreements as part of the treaty negotiation process that could include legislative, administrative and other measures for ensuring all human and cultural rights of First Peoples. 

In relation to the child protection and criminal justice systems, Victoria has an opportunity to achieve self-determination by transferring decision-making power, authority, control and resources to First Peoples as these systems relate to them. This transformative, structural change could include transferring the power to make decisions about: 

  • system design 
  • revenue raising and resource allocation 
  • powers of, and appointments to bodies or institutions. 

It could also include the transfer of accountability and oversight functions and the creation of new First Peoples-led bodies, oversight processes and complaints pathways. 

Yoorrook Commissioner Travis Lovett at a Yoorrook public looking intensely and gesturing towards a witness off frame
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“The Victorian Government recognises the critical role of self-determination in addressing the over-representation of First Peoples children in the Child Protection system … I recognise that successful reforms are built on good foundations, are gradual and iterative, and are underpinned by self-determination

Witness Statement of Minister for Child Protection, the Hon Elizabeth (Lizzie) Blandthorn MLC, 24 March 2023, [25].

Accountability, capability and compliance with human and cultural rights obligations

This report documents serious deficits in three key areas that are critical to government making good on its commitments to self-determination and to ending the systemic injustices that the State has inflicted and continues to inflict on First Peoples. These span both the child protection and criminal justice systems and have whole of government implications.

They are: 

  • monitoring and accountability 
  • cultural competence and responsiveness, including human rights capability 
  • the need to strengthen human and cultural rights compliance. 

These lie at the heart of the cultural, practice and institutional changes that must be made to the child protection and criminal justice systems to address the systemic racism and policy failures Yoorrook has identified throughout this report. 

Read more about the centrality of self-determination in the full report.

The past is the present

Understanding the connection between contemporary and historic injustice 

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and pay our respect to them, their culture and their Elders past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.