The Victorian Government took a step toward forming State-based Treaties with Aboriginal communities on Tuesday, announcing the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission.

The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission is the nation’s first truth-telling process into injustices experienced by Aboriginal people since colonisation.

The Victorian Government announced the Commission in partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, the State’s first democratically elected body for Aboriginal people.

The Assembly will ensure Aboriginal communities are involved in planning, designing and implementing the initiative.

Expected to begin in July 2021, the Commission will investigate injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians throughout history to the present day.

Victoria is the first and only State or Territory to have actioned the Treaty and Truth elements of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.

CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) Nerita Waight said the Yoo-rrook Commission must be truly independent, properly resourced and Aboriginal-led.

“Self-determination is the only way Aboriginal people will ever get justice. Self-determination too often is stifled by bureaucracies that exclude or sideline Aboriginal voices,” she said.

“We are often told by Prime Ministers, Premiers, and Ministers to wait, that we need to go on a journey with them, that they will do the right thing when circumstances allow.

“The Victorian Government has the power to improve the lives of Aboriginal people significantly today, and they must.”

The Commissioners will be a majority of Aboriginal community leaders, at least one Elder and at least one Aboriginal representative with legal expertise.

Deputy Premier James Merlino announced that the process would have the power of a Royal Commission at a press conference on Tuesday.

The press conference was held at Coranderrk near Healesville, a former Aboriginal reserve and the site of a pivotal civil rights struggle in Australia’s history.

“This is long overdue. It’s an acknowledgement that the pain in our past is present in the lives of people right now,” he said.

“It’s a recognition that without truth, without justice, you can’t have a Treaty.”

“You can’t take that incredibly powerful step forward until we go through this process.”

A joint statement released by the Deputy Premier, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams and Co-Chair of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria Marcus Stewart said the announcement has been owed for 233 years.

“With the establishment of the Commission, Victoria will be the first and only jurisdiction in our nation to institute a formal truth-telling forum,” the statement read.

“We make this point, not out of pride, but with purpose. As a State, as a nation, we must do better.

“That means, not only hearing Aboriginal voices but actually listening to them. And taking meaningful action in order to achieve real and lasting change.”

Not all Aboriginal Victorians have been as accepting of the announcement, however, with Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe welcoming the Commission but remaining sceptical.

“We can’t move forward as a country until we reckon with the truth about our history,” she said.

Senator Thorpe said the Commission is an “historic opportunity” for “genuine Treaty process” both in the State and nationally.

Victoria’s Treaty process has been a pretty token gesture so far. If Labor is serious about justice for our First Peoples, they will also agree to a moratorium on logging while the Commission does its work. You can’t be serious about telling the truth about our ongoing connection to these lands and waters, as you keep destroying it.”

By Darby Ingram