Premier could offer apology for Aboriginal injustices

Aboriginal Victorians could receive an official apology from the premier once a truth-telling inquiry finishes examining the damage wrought by colonisation.

Premier Jacinta Allan faced the Yoorrook Justice Commission on Monday and revealed she was prepared to make a formal apology at an appropriate time.

The apology would follow the release of the commission's final report in mid-2025 and negotiations with the elected First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, who would consult with the wider community on its form.

"To move forward as a society and to mend wrongs and heal wounds, the state needs to publicly reckon with its role in perpetrating injustice," her witness statement reads.

"It takes more than just admitting the historical facts, though they are important."

Former premier Jeff Kennett apologised to Aboriginal people on behalf of the parliament and all Victorians in 1997 for past policies leading to the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities.

In her opening remarks, Ms Allan declared the policies and practice of government had created the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians.

"Whether ignorance or deliberate intent, we have driven that disparity," she told the inquiry.

"And as the commission has noted, that disparity continues to play out in the lives and life outcomes for Aboriginal people."

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan gets a message stick
Premier Jacinta Allan received a message stick before appearing at the Yoorrook Justice Commission. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

Formal truth-telling processes have been held in more than 30 other countries including Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

It's the first time an Australian state premier has fronted an Indigenous-led truth-telling commission, with a special ceremony held outside Yoorrook's Collingwood headquarters to mark the occasion.

Ms Allan professed to not have been taught or knowing the history of massacres close to her home city of Bendigo before preparing for her historic appearance.

"It brings me a sense of shame and distress personally that I did not know that, and it brings me a sense of shame and distress that this was done by people, all in the pursuit of taking land off First Peoples," she said.

She said there had been a deliberate and systematic attempt to erase Aboriginal people from the state's history and "blot away the bloody stains of colonisation".

Victoria's education system could be altered to help change that, with Ms Allan saying the government would consider embedding the commission's findings into the school curriculum.

Yoorrook chair Eleanor Bourke (right)
Yoorrook chair Eleanor Bourke (right) asked Ms Allan to "live up to your words with your actions". (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

Yoorrook chair Eleanor Bourke declared the premier's words would live on the public record for generations and cautioned she did not want to be talking about the failure of the commission to effect change in 30 years.

"When you leave here today, I ask you to live up to your words with your actions," Professor Bourke told Ms Allan.

"First Peoples have faced a long history of being let down by successive governments and their leaders - broken promises, unfulfilled commitments and apologies followed by inertia."

The Victorian government has so far accepted four of the 46 recommendations made by the commission in its most recent interim report into the child protection and criminal justice systems.

Another 24 were accepted in principle, 15 remain under consideration and three were rejected, including raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 without exception and the minimum age of detention to 16.

Yoorrook's work will inform statewide treaty negotiations between the government and the First Peoples' Assembly, slated to begin later this year.

Ms Allan agreed it would be very difficult for Aboriginal Victorians to reclaim land by buying it on the open market and dodged repeated questions on whether money was being set aside for the statewide treaty and local treaties.

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