Victoria to set up Australia’s first truth and justice commission to recognise wrongs against Aboriginal people | Indigenous Australians

Victoria will set up a truth and justice process to “formally recognise historical wrongs and ongoing injustices” against Aboriginal people, the first state or territory to undertake such a commission.

The process will work in parallel with the treaty process currently under way, and will be designed and led by the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

The terms of reference for a truth-telling process are yet to be determined but the “work will begin immediately”, the minister for Aboriginal affairs, Gabrielle Williams, said.

The First Nations Assembly of Victoria voted last month for a truth and justice process. The Bangerang Wiradjuri co-chair of the assembly, Geraldine Atkinson, said there would now be community consultation to determine its scope and form.

“There are things that we haven’t been able to talk about,” Atkinson said. “We haven’t talked about the frontier wars. We haven’t talked about the massacres. We haven’t talked about displacement, you know about the policies of protection and assimilation.

“And we’re ready to really talk about the over-incarceration of our mob in prisons, and deaths in custody. So there’s a whole range of things that we want to be able to talk to community about and get their understanding, and see if it’s those sorts of things they want to explore during this truth-telling process.”

The Taungurung Assembly co-chair, Marcus Stewart, said this was a “historic” moment for Victoria “built on decades of activism and generations of aspiration”.

“It’s one of the most significant milestones that I’ll probably see in my lifetime,” he said. “Truth telling is critical to everything we need to move forward, to heal as a state.”

Stewart said cultural safety was vital to the process.

“So that Victorians can listen and hear exactly what the true history of our state is,” he said.

“I think Victoria has been really good at telling one side of history, and now we have the opportunity to speak our truth.”

Reparations or redress could form part of a truth-telling process, they said, noting the state has already established a redress scheme for members of the stolen generations.

“That was a part of one of the first things that we asked in our first assembly meeting,” Atkinson said.

“It will all have to be worked out and it’s just really early days, but we want to make sure it isn’t just about people telling these stories, that there will be tangible outcome from it.”

Truth and justice processes have been established in countries such as South Africa, Canada and New Zealand, uncovering and acknowledging past human rights violations and ongoing injustices towards First Peoples, Williams said.

“There is nothing more powerful than the truth,” Williams said. “Because with honesty comes healing. It’s going to take courage from all sides to uncover the truths of our past and understand ongoing impacts – establishing this process brings us one step closer to genuine reconciliation.

“We owe it to Aboriginal Victorians to be frank and honest about the injustices they have faced – and continue to face. This will help us to address these injustices and build a stronger Victoria on a foundation of trust.”

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