As a fundamental right of ‘peoples’, self-determination is based on the notion of Aboriginal people having control over their own destiny including their social, economic, and cultural needs, and to have that right respected by others. The Victorian Government is committed to self-determination as the foundation for Aboriginal affairs and for better justice outcomes for Aboriginal people, including children and young people.

This includes the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria that will be the voice of Aboriginal people in Victoria in the future treaty process. Across government, Aboriginal experiences and voices must be at the centre of decision-making to deliver better policies and programs that reflect community needs and aspirations. This commitment demonstrates the changing nature of the relationship between the Victorian Government and the Aboriginal community as it moves beyond partnership and towards true self-determination.

Self-determination and the justice system

There is a long history of seeking to further self-determination in Victoria’s justice system. Aboriginal people’s contact with the criminal justice system is well attributed to their disadvantaged and unequal position within the wider society, and the ongoing legacy of colonisation. The 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended furthering self-determination and self-governance, as the key approaches to underpin efforts to reverse these impacts and to address over-representation

The Aboriginal Justice Caucus is clear that, in the context of Victorian Government responses, self-determination must be led by Aboriginal people. On this basis, self-determination has been a key feature of every Aboriginal Justice Agreement since the first Agreement was signed in 2000 and has been taken to new levels by the Aboriginal Justice Caucus as the key policy focus of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4).

Embedding self-determination in the core business of justice agencies requires significant change. This process has commenced in Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4).

Self-determination and Wirkara Kulpa

Aboriginal self-determination is the foundational principle that has shaped the development of Wirkara Kulpa. It joins Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (AJA4) in its journey towards a goal of greater self-determination and a justice system that values and promotes Aboriginal involvement in designing, delivering and leading responses for Aboriginal children and young people:

Self-determination is doing business our way. Things work better if we implement community led solutions. If it’s our vision we work towards, then our kids will grow up strong.[2]

Aboriginal Justice Caucus member,
Self-determination and the Youth Justice System Workshop Series 2019

Self-determination also requires an understanding of what the principle means for Aboriginal children and young people themselves. This Strategy aims to put them at the centre of decisions about themselves, and to empower and include their families in planning and decision-making processes at key points of contact with the youth justice system. This is how we can support Aboriginal children and young people to live culturally rich lives.


End notes

[2] Aboriginal Justice Caucus member, Self-determination and the Youth Justice System Workshop Series 2019