We are pleased on behalf of the Aboriginal Justice Caucus to present Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja – Senior Leaders Talking Strong. This is an Agreement that, more than ever before, has been shaped by Aboriginal people in their pursuit of self-determination.
The launch of this new Agreement marks the 18th anniversary of the first Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA). In that time we have seen great change in how we approach justice for the Aboriginal community in Victoria. The earlier Agreements broke ground with many important developments, from the original landmarks of the AJA partnership structure and foundation of Koori Courts, to development of liaison roles within Victoria Police and Sheriffs and a raft of programs and workers to support improved justice outcomes.
The fourth phase of the Victorian AJA builds on this solid foundation. The two drivers of the Agreement: to continue to address Aboriginal over-representation across the justice system, and to progress self-determination as the core policy approach, will help support us to achieve our vision and goals.
The Aboriginal Justice Caucus has explored and defined what self-determination means to us in the justice context, and this Agreement reflects our long term vision for an Aboriginal community-controlled justice system. This fits in with the broader movement toward Aboriginal self-determination in Victoria and Treaty work underway. Self-determination is seen in many ways in this Agreement, including the focus on family, community, culture and country.
We can expect to see more change in the way the AJA is delivered over its lifetime. In recent years, the Aboriginal Justice Caucus has grown in its role to become the main leadership body for community on justice issues. We can expect this growth to continue as the partnership also changes. The partnership is a core feature of the series of Agreements, and will remain an important and enduring part of the story. As self-determination grows, the Aboriginal community will assume more and more responsibility and influence to deliver services in a way that works for us, and we are encouraged to see government commit to adapting to the changing balance of this relationship. There is much more work to be done, but we are in a great position to keep moving toward an even stronger future.
The strategies and opportunities contained in this Agreement are designed to strengthen Aboriginal oversight of justice outcomes for Aboriginal people, and to focus more than ever before on the important roles of family and therapeutic, cultural healing to tackle offending. This is particularly important for young people. The Aboriginal Justice Caucus stands with other concerned groups in the community in calling for national change to the age of criminal responsibility, believing that young offenders, in particular very young offenders should be treated therapeutically as is the case in other countries, rather than through the criminal justice system.
Critical to reducing offending is economic independence and stability for Aboriginal families. The Aboriginal Justice Caucus congratulates the Victorian Government on its move during 2018 to prevent release of historical criminal offences that were ascribed to children of the stolen generations. These children were effectively criminalised for being removed from their families. This is a step in the right direction. The Aboriginal Justice Caucus looks forward to working towards a more consistent approach to spent convictions so that offending which has long since been dealt with, ceases to impede the economic prospects of many Aboriginal people.
We would like to thank the many people who work with Caucus on this important undertaking, including community members and leaders; Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee and Local Aboriginal Justice Action Committee chairpersons, members and executive officers; members of the Aboriginal Justice Forum; and Ministers, public sector leaders and staff. This collaborative support and effort keeps the Agreement moving, and we are grateful for the help we receive to keep Caucus and community at the centre of the partnership. We are proud of the work that this Agreement continues, and look forward to working to further our vision for a self-determining, strong and proud Aboriginal community.
Tony Lovett and Marion Hansen
Aboriginal Justice Caucus Co-Chairs