The Victorian Government of Australia is currently holding an inquiry into the violent dispossession and genocide of its Indienous population during British colonization. This entails a truth and reconciliation process that addresses the contemporary effects of historical trauma.
A Note from the Author of this Case Entry
The Yoorrook Justice Commission differs from other TRCs on Participedia because it is currently in progress. As such, this case entry seeks to provide context on the TRC's reasoning and report on its progress. As of right now, the TRC has issued its Interim Report in June of 2022 and is on track to release its Final Report in 2024. Participedia will continue to update this case entry as the Commission process progresses and reveals new findings.
Problems and Purpose
In 2020, the Australian State Government of Victoria announced its plans to work with Aboriginal communities to establish Australia's first official truth and justice process, which would recognize historic wrongs and address ongoing societal injustices against Indigenous people in Australia. This was in response to calls by the First Peoples' Assembly, an elected body created in 2019 representing Victorian traditional owners. Within six months of announcing that the process would begin immediately, the Government also announced that a budget and terms of reference would be developed within six months .
The Yoorrook Justice Commission, named for the Wemba Wemba/Womba Womba word for "truth," looks into both past and ongoing injustices experienced by Traditional Owners and First Peoples in Victoria in all areas of life since colonization. In doing this, it will:
- Establish an official record of the impact of colonization on Traditional Owners and First Peoples in Victoria
- Develop a shared understanding among all Victorians of the impact of colonization, as well as the diversity, strength, and resilience of First Peoples' cultures
- Make recommendations for healing, system reform, and practical changes to laws, policy and education, as well as to matters to be included in future treaties
Background History and Context
Between 1836 and 1856, several thousand Indigenous Australians were massacred by colonizers in Victoria, and Australian colonial history continued to be characterized by violence, racism, land dispossession, and forced assimilation. Recent steps toward reconciliation seek to ensure that Indigenous Australians have equitable opportunities and that their quality of life is equal to that of non-Indigenous Australians.
Previous attempts to seek justice in Australia before the TRC had failed. In the 1990s, official commissions of inquiry sought to investigate issues including Aboriginal deaths in state custody and assimilation policies that forcibly removed Indigenous children, now known as the "stolen generation," from their families .
Other attempts at a Commission-like body made efforts to address Australian colonial history:
- In 1997, the Bringing Them Home Report
- In 1998, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
- In 2000, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation's Final Report
- In 2017, the Referendum Council's Final Report
- Also in 2017, the Uluru Statement from the Heart
While the landmark 1992 Mabo court decision overturned the historical myth that Australia was terra nullius, or "empty land," at the time of British colonization, which paved the way for legal recognition of native title rights over some areas of public land and waters, its limitations have caused new trauma for those who could not meet the eligibility criteria .
Intergenerational trauma is a priority of Yoorrook. The overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system, high levels of ongoing social and economic disadvantages for many Indigenous Australians, and a lack of official acknowledgment of colonization continue to have extremely negative effects on the First Nations population in Australia. According to the 2018 Reconciliation Barometer survey, 80 percent of Australians believe it is important to "undertake formal truth-telling processes," however, two years later, in 2020, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied that slavery ever took place in Australia--which evokes questions about historical myth and its dangers .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Yoorrook Justice Commission is independent and not-for-profit, as it is being executed by the Government.
Yoorrook's Interim Report offers a detailed profile of its Commissioners, including:
Professor Eleanor A Bourke, Chair and Wamba Wamba elder who has had an extensive career in academia and has been working in community, state, and federal government agencies for years.
Dr. Wayne Atkinson, Senior Elder, a prominent advocate of Human Rights and Indigenous Rights who has long worked in Indigenous Affairs.
Ms. Sue-Anne Hunter, Deputy Chair, a child and family services practitioner with extensive experience responding to developmental, trans-generational, and community trauma.
Professor Emerita Maggie Walter, Commissioner, who has published six books and over 100 journal articles/research chapters in the fields of Indigenous sociology and Indigenous Data Sovereignty and is also a prominent advocate of Indigenous rights.
Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell, Commissioner and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria for fifteen years who played a pivotal role in the implementation and operation of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2006.
Methods and Tools Used
Truth-telling is the primary form of information gathering for the Yoorrook Justice Commission. This includes submissions of any form (i.e., writing, audio/video, artwork, photograph(s)), joining a truth-telling forum, or being an official witness in a public hearing. The Commission outlines various ways of truth-telling here.
Truth-telling involves activities at local, state, national, and international levels, and can exist in the form of official apologies, memorials, and ceremonies. Oftentimes, truth-telling encourages dialogue surrounding under-told histories. For example, the Myall Creek Massacre Memorial commemorates the deaths of twenty-eight Indigenous people in 1838, which resulted in the first case of perpetrators of a crime being brought to justice . In this case, truth-telling was important because many local community members were working alongside descendants of massacre survivors and perpetrators without having effectively addressed the history .
Ultimately, truth-telling leads to historical acceptance, which is the key to reconciliation in Australia. If truth-telling is executed effectively and adequately, Australians will "recognise, understand, and accept the wrongs of the past and the impact of these wrongs on First Peoples" .
What's Going On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Commission is adamant that the Five Dimensions of Reconciliation remain central to the TRC process.
1) Race Relations
To strengthen relationships based on trust and respect, it is essential that Australians understand and value Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.
2) Equality and Equity
It is essential that Indigenous Australians participate equally and equitably in all areas of life.
3) Institutional Integrity
Australian business, political, and community structures must support reconciliation.
The entirety of society should value and recognize Indigenous cultures and heritage as a proud part of a shared national identity.
5) Historical Acceptance
It is necessary for Australians to understand and make amends for the wrongs of the nation’s history. This is best done through education and understanding.
It is truth-telling, then, that will best bring to light colonial conflict and dispossession while also acknowledging the strength and resilience of Indigenous Australian peoples and cultures. This involves activities at local, state, national, and international levels.
During the truth-seeking and truth-telling process, the Commission will: 
- Hear stories and gather information from First Peoples in Victoria on their experience of past and ongoing injustices and how their cultures and knowledge have survived
- Support First Peoples to choose how they wish to share their experiences and avoid experiencing further trauma
- Closely examine information that is already available and seek new information and data from the Victorian Government and other institutions to give evidence about current and past practices and policies
- Make recommendations for systemic and practical changes to laws, policy, and practices
The Commission released a projected timeline for its process: 
- June 2020, First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria calls for a truth and justice process
- July 2020, the Victorian Government announces its commitment to the process
- July 2020 to February 2021, design of the form and mandate of the truth and justice process, Assembly and Victorian Government work together based on consultation with Aboriginal communities across Victoria
- March 2021, Announcement of Yoorrook Justice Commission and call for Commissioners
- April 2021, Commissioner candidates shortlisted
- May 2021, Commissioners were appointed and Yoorrook was established, five Commissioners were announced, and the Commission gained legal establishment with the powers of a Royal Commission, meaning that it can compel evidence under oath
- June 2022, Yoorrook released its Interim Report
- June 2024, the Commission will release its Final Report
 Caitlin Reiger, “Australia’s First Truth Commission: Transitional Justice to Face Colonial Legacies,” justiceinfo.net, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/45000-australia-s-first-truth-commission-transitional-justice-to-face-colonial-legacies.html
 “Support Grows but More Needs to Be Done,” justiceinfo.net. Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation-support-grows-but-more-needs-to-be-done-latest-australian-reconciliation-barometer/; Reiger, “Australia’s First Truth Commission.”
 “The Massacre Story,” Friends of Myall Creek, 2022. Retrieved from https://myallcreek.org/the-massacre-story/
 “Truth-telling,” Reconciliation Australia, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation/truth-telling/
 “Overview,” The Yoorrook Justice Commission, 2022. Retrieved from https://yoorrookjusticecommission.org.au/overview/
Bringing them Home Report. Australian Human Rights Commission, 1997. Retrieved from https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/bringing-them-home-report-1997
“Commissioners.” The Yoorrook Justice Commission, 2022. Retrieved from https://yoorrookjusticecommission.org.au/commissioners/
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/car/2000/16/prelim04.htm
Final Report of the Referendum Council. Commonwealth of Australia, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/sites/default/files/report_attachments/Referendum_Council_Final_Report.pdf
“Overview,” The Yoorrook Justice Commission, 2022. Retrieved from https://yoorrookjusticecommission.org.au/overview/
Reiger, Caitlin. “Australia’s First Truth Commission: Transitional Justice to Face Colonial Legacies.” justiceinfo.net. 2020. Retrieved from https://www.justiceinfo.net/en/45000-australia-s-first-truth-commission-transitional-justice-to-face-colonial-legacies.html
“Support Grows but More Needs to Be Done,” justiceinfo.net. Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation-support-grows-but-more-needs-to-be-done-latest-australian-reconciliation-barometer/
“The Massacre Story.” Friends of Myall Creek. 2022. Retrieved from https://myallcreek.org/the-massacre-story/
“The Statement.” Uluru Statement from the Heart, 2022. Retrieved from https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement/
“Truth-telling.” Reconciliation Australia. 2022. Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation/truth-telling/
Yoorrook With Purpose: Interim Report. The Yoorrook Justice Commission, 2022. Retrieved from https://yoorrookjusticecommission.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Yoorrook-Justice-Commission-Interim-Report.pdf
“Yoorrook’s Key Documents,” The Yoorrook Justice Commission, 2022. Retrieved from https://yoorrookjusticecommission.org.au/key-documents/
The first version of this case entry was written by Sarah Slasor, M.A., McMaster University.