The 53rd Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF) held in the Gippsland region on Thursday 14 and Friday 15 March 2019 was a great opportunity for leaders from the Victorian Aboriginal community and Victorian Government to come together and work on the goals of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja – the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.
Members of the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, the broader Aboriginal community and representatives from the Justice, Human Services, Health and Education departments were there. The meeting began with a warm welcome from Uncle Lloyd Hood, a Gunai/Kurnai Elder who provided the Welcome to Country, and the Dreamtime Dance Troupe and Boorun Boys Dance Group who performed traditional and contemporary dances.
Members of the forum also observed one-minute silence to acknowledge the passing of Aunty Jenny Solomon and paid their respect to her.
Highlights and achievements
Aboriginal Case Management Review Meetings
Aboriginal Case Management Review Meetings are having a positive impact on the number of people successfully completing Community Correction Orders. These have been convened with input from the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) Executive Officer and Local Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (LAJAC) Project Officer.
Koori Women’s Diversion Program
Due to its flexibility, intensive case management and no-loose-ends policy, the Koori Women’s Diversion Program run out of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) in Morwell is seeing a marked reduction in women who re-offend.
Youth, Men’s and Elders’ groups
Youth, Men’s and Elders’ groups are bringing communities together through storytelling, healing and cultural activities.
East Gippsland Collective Impact Project
The East Gippsland Collective Impact Project is a place-based community-led justice project that will identify shared priorities and develop new ways of working in partnership with families, Elders and communities to improve justice outcomes for Aboriginal people in East Gippsland.
AJF and community issues
The AJF and the La Trobe community forum were a great opportunity for community members to raise several issues with government departments.
Statutory declarations for Confirmation of Aboriginality
The Aboriginal Justice Caucus asked that the use of statutory declarations for Confirmation of Aboriginality stop. Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) will immediately stop using statutory declarations for the next 12 months.
Independent Prisoner Visitor Scheme
There was concern about the lack of consultation on the Independent Prisoner Visitor Scheme review and the 10-year limit that would affect long-serving Aboriginal Independent Visitors. DJCS committed to reviewing the terms of appointment and confirmed that an Aboriginal Advisory Committee for the Scheme will be established in April. This committee will improve Aboriginal representation in the program. The terms of reference, including the representatives for the committee, will be developed by the Aboriginal Justice Caucus with support from the department
Community member in Swan Hill
Victoria Police was asked whether a community member in Swan Hill who died was in police custody and whether handcuffs were used. Victoria Police confirmed the community member died before officers attended and was not in handcuffs.
Impact of public drunkenness laws on Aboriginal people
The impact of public drunkenness laws on Aboriginal people was raised. The department invited AJF members to join discussions on changes to public drunkenness laws, spent convictions and the age of criminality. A report on options will be provided to the Aboriginal Justice Caucus.
Youth justice and broader post-release housing
Youth justice and broader post-release housing is an ongoing issue across the state. A project on housing for young people and adults leaving the criminal justice system will be undertaken and overseen by a Collaborative Working Group.
The failure to contact family members
The failure to contact family members of their loved one’s transfer to St Vincent’s Hospital from Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, followed by the family being told they are required to wait seven days for a visit is under an internal management review, which commenced on Monday 18 March. The Commissioner of Corrections met with the family during the AJF Community Forum personally to discuss this and advised the matter would be investigated and outcome of investigation will be conveyed back to family within a month.
Racism in two local schools
Racism in two local schools was reported by concerned parents. The Inner Gippsland Department of Education and Training Area Director and Acting Koorie Education Manager have met with the parents who raised concerns and are following up with the schools. A report will be provided back to the Gippsland RAJAC.
Deaths in custody protests
At a rally protesting black deaths in custody, speakers were stripped of their microphones and felt unsafe due to the actions of police. The local Superintendent will contact the police who managed the event to understand what occurred and follow up with the community member who raised these concerns.
Melbourne Custody Centre
It is taking a long time for people to be released from the Melbourne Custody Centre which makes it difficult to return home to Gippsland safely. Victoria Police will investigate the cause of these delays and what can be done to reduce them.
Community meeting schedule
The community meeting should be held at a different time so more people can attend. The Koori Justice Unit will work with the RAJAC Chairperson in the region that hosts the AJF to identify the best time for the community meeting.
The Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, Rebecca Falkingham, has committed to return to Morwell within three months to report on what has been done to address the issues raised in the community forum.
Who to contact for more information
Gippsland Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) Executive Officer
Phone: 03 5116 5744
Mobile: 0400 411 727