First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and all the Aboriginal children and young people who have shaped the way forward by developing Wirkara Kulpa, the first Victorian Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy. I thank you for your passion, strength, courage and hard work.

Wirkara Kulpa is about making sure Aboriginal children and young people live culturally rich lives with family and community away from the justice system. Every single Aboriginal child and young person has an abundance of strength and knowledge that deserves to be heard and supported. Improving the youth justice system and services so they always build on children and young peoples’ strengths and listens to their voices, lies at the heart of this document.

The Commission for Children and Young Peoples’ Inquiry, Our Youth, Our Way has provided the Victorian Government with a roadmap for substantial reform to the youth justice system to overcome systemic inequalities and overrepresentation. Fifty-six recommendations from the Inquiry are included in this Strategy. As we continue these reforms the Victorian Government is committed to the Treaty process and participating in the Yoorrook Justice Commission. Taking action on recommendations from Yoorrook where they relate to government settings will strengthen the reforms in this Strategy.

As the Treaty progresses, this Strategy will ensure we can Close the Gap by 2031 in partnership with Aboriginal communities, moving towards an Aboriginal-led youth justice system.

Such a system will be based on self-determination and keeping children and young people strong in their family, community and culture. For example, throughout the life of this Strategy we will explore on-country alternatives to remand; deliver a new youth justice hub led by an Aboriginal organisation; progress the transfer of services to Aboriginal organisations through the new Youth Justice Act; and we will create a ‘trusted worker’ role so that Aboriginal children and young people do not walk alone. This will build on the launch of the specialist Aboriginal children’s legal service Balit Ngulu and an expanded Community-Based Koori Youth Justice Worker Program in 2020.

Victoria has reduced the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people under youth justice supervision by 42 per cent over the last five years. We are ahead of the Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4) target to reduce the number of Aboriginal 10 to 17-year-olds under youth justice supervision on an average day. Despite these improvements an unacceptable gap remains. Aboriginal children and young people are still approximately ten times more likely than non-Aboriginal children and young people to be involved with the youth justice system. This Strategy sets out what needs to change in the next ten years to close the gap.

We will collectively be held to account over the life of this Strategy by the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, Aboriginal community governance forums and by achieving the targets set out in the Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4) to close the gap by 2031. I look forward to continuing to work with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Aboriginal children, young people, families and communities in implementing this Strategy to improve outcomes, ensuring that involvement with the youth justice system is minimised wherever possible.

The Hon. Natalie Hutchins MP
Minister for Youth Justice