Premier ‘prepared’ to apologise for colonisation wrongs

Callum Godde |

Premier Jacinta Allan’s appearance will be her first before the Yoorrook Justice Commission.
Premier Jacinta Allan’s appearance will be her first before the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

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

Facing the Yoorrook Justice Commission on Monday, Premier Jacinta Allan’s witness statement says she is prepared to make a formal apology at an appropriate time in future.

The apology would follow the end of the commission’s truth and fact-finding mandate, the release of its final report in 2025 and through negotiations with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, who will 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,” the 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 statement, Ms Allan declared the policies and practice of government had created the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan
Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan became the first premier to front a truth-telling commission. (Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

“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.”

She said it was not enough to know the history of colonisation to overcome the disadvantages that have flowed from it.

“This process is not about making any one individual feel guilt or shame, instead it’s about reckoning with our past, being honest about our present and reaching for a better and fairer future for First Peoples,” Ms Allan said.

“That begins with listening.”

Victoria’s education system could be altered to fix the knowledge gap, she said.

“The work of the commission will give us a wealth of material that we can look at how we embed that into our curriculum,” Ms Allan said.

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

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 affect change in 30 years’ time.

“When you leave here today, I ask you to live up to your words and 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.”

Following the inquiry’s second interim report, the Victorian government in April accepted 28 of 46 recommendations in full or in principle, is still considering 15 more, and rejected three outright.

The three rejected recommendations related to increasing the legal age of criminal liability to at least 14 and the minimum age of detention to 16, changing bail laws to reduce deaths in custody, and changes to the Charter of Human Rights.

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

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AAP