The 54th Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF) was held in Healesville (Eastern Metropolitan region) on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 July 2019.
Day one of the two-day forum began with a strong focus on culture and community, led by Chairperson of the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (EM RAJAC), Dr Lois Peeler AM (Aunty Lois).
Members and guests were welcomed to Country by Aunty Zeta Thomson, a Wurundjeri/Yorta Yorta Elder and were taken along the Dreaming Trail and Historical Walk by Aunty Lois.
The cultural ceremony also featured the handing over of the AJF message stick from Aunty Aileen Blackburn to Aunty Lois Peeler, as the incoming Chairperson. The AJF message stick is an enduring symbol of the strength of the AJA and illustrates its journey across Victoria, traveling from one AJF to another.
Aboriginal Community Forum
Following the day’s cultural proceedings, the Aboriginal Community Forum was held at Worawa Aboriginal College, facilitated by Nathan Leitch, Senior Research and Evaluation Consultant for Social Compass. Nathan is a Quandamooka man, dedicated to retaining Aboriginal community ethics.
Members of the AJF and around 40 local Aboriginal community members attended the forum to discuss a range of issues.
The AJF has committed to responding to the issues raised in an effort to improve justice outcomes for Aboriginal people.
What the AJF heard
Money transfer procedures in prisons
Concerns were raised by community about the inconsistent money transfer procedures across Victoria’s prison systems. Some prisons require money orders which are costly to arrange. Corrections Victoria are looking at a new system that is consistent across all prisons. In the meantime, family and friends providing money to loved ones are encouraged to make payments directly at the prison locations to avoid money order costs.
Toilet facilities during prison visits
Community sought clarification on whether use of toilet facilities during a prison visit results in that visit being cut short. Corrections Victoria confirmed that visitors are permitted to use the toilet before, during and after visits, having completed the necessary security processes to enter a prison. The Commissioner, Corrections Victoria contacted the community member who raised this issue to confirm that this is the case.
Aboriginal Wellbeing Officer
Aboriginal clients’ cultural preferences must be considered as part of the Aboriginal Wellbeing Officer (AWO) service provision. For example, Aboriginal men prefer to be seen by men, while women prefer to be seen by women. Currently, the AWO role is not gender specific. Corrections Victoria will work with Aunty Lois Peeler and Aunty Zeta Thomson on how the AWO role can be improved so that it is culturally appropriate. Corrections Victoria are also working with other relevant stakeholders to identify challenges and improve the supports in place for the AWO role.
Cultural safety needs for Aboriginal young people
The need for greater cultural safety for Aboriginal young people in the youth justice settings. Youth Justice provided an overview of the supports and services available to Aboriginal children and young people and outlined key reforms underway. A report has been provided to the EM RAJAC.
The Beyond Survival Program
The community called for ongoing funding and the continuation of ‘The Beyond Survival Program’. The Beyond Survival Program is funded through the Kaka Wangity Wangin-Mirre Ministerial Grants, expiring at the end of 2019. Further funding depends on the outcome of the next round of grants, to be announced next year.
Forums for Aboriginal young people
Community flagged the need for suitable forums for Aboriginal young people to have their voices heard. The Koori Youth Council, together with EM RAJAC are exploring options for Aboriginal young people to voice their concerns
Reporting Elder abuse
Community want better information around reporting Elder abuse and where to go for further assistance. Family Safety Victoria committed to connect Mullum Mullum with the Eastern Dhelk Dja Action Group to develop community information, to support access to appropriate Elder abuse/family violence supports.
Royal Commission into Mental Health
Community members sought confirmation that the views of Aboriginal people in custodial settings will be considered as part of the Royal Commission into Mental Health. Relevant AJF representatives have met to discuss the development of a plan to support Aboriginal people through the submission process.
Support for cultural camps
Community raised the need for improved support to cultural camps for children in residential care. Aboriginal Justice, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, will work together to develop a strategy to strengthen the support provided to cultural camps.
Intervention order placed against a respected Elder
An issue was raised regarding the placement of an intervention order against a respected Elder. The Deputy Chief Magistrate has personally followed up on the issue by speaking with the Elder involved.
The remainder of the AJF 54 agenda focused on the courts portfolio and restorative justice initiatives.
Eastern Metropolitan region highlights and achievements
The EM RAJAC continues to focus its efforts on improving justice outcomes for its youth through diversion and prevention strategies that encompass cultural and therapeutic approaches to social and emotional wellbeing.
The AJF heard about some of the positive initiatives making an impact on the Eastern Metropolitan Region Aboriginal community. These include:
Restorative Justice Pilot Project
The objective of the project is to develop and implement a pilot service model in the Eastern Metropolitan and Hume Regions, which connects to and leverages from existing opportunities within the justice system to deliver a culturally specific restorative justice response for Aboriginal young people. The timeline for the project is divided into three phases:
- Phase 1: Development (April 2019–June 2020)
- Phase 2: Pilot and evaluation (July 2020–June 2022)
- Phase 3: Delivery and expansion (July 2022–onwards).
The pilot is the first of the Place-Based Local Community-Led Justice Projects funded through Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4).
Confirmation of Aboriginality
The EM RAJAC conducted a community forum on ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’ to canvass the views of community on this important topic. The findings from the session will inform state-wide consultations.
Local Justice Worker Program
Victorian Aboriginal Childcare Agency (VACCA) have been selected to deliver the Local Justice Worker Program (LJWP) in the region over the next four years. The LJWP assists Aboriginal community members to complete community correction orders, resolve fines and warrants.
Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service
EM RAJAC continues to support Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service to deliver intensive case management to victims and perpetrators of family violence, using intervention and prevention strategies to break the cycle around unhealthy relationships.
Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place
Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place in the Eastern Metropolitan region of Melbourne is in its 12th year of operation, providing a place that is committed to retaining, promoting and strengthening the cultural identity of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander guests.
Youth and Leadership Camp
VACCA have partnered with the EM RAJAC to launch its first Youth and Leadership Camp, providing participants with an opportunity to be immersed in culture and grow up proud and strong.
Ashburton Police Station
It was reported to the EM RAJAC that discussions are underway to explore the opportunity for Ashburton Police Station to be used by Aboriginal community members of the Inner-Eastern Region for community activities. A concept paper is being developed that will explore options and limitations.
Aboriginal Independent Prisoner Visitor Scheme
Aboriginal Independent Prisoner Visitor Scheme – Aunty Lois Peeler, EM RAJAC Chairperson, has been nominated as Chair of the re-established Aboriginal Advisory Committee (AAC). The AAC will develop the redesign of the Aboriginal Independent Prison Visitor Scheme and its representation across Victorian prisons.
Key justice priorities for the region
The EM RAJAC undertook a community survey to identify key justice priorities for the region. The survey results will inform the development of the EM RAJAC plan.
Who to contact for more information
Eastern Metropolitan Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) Executive Officer
Phone: 0419 608 591