The Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, will today present evidence at a truth-telling hearing of the Yoorrook Justice Commission examining harm the justice and child protection systems continue to inflict on First Peoples.
The Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder said it was important to remember that behind every devastating set of statistics are real people.
“We’re talking about our children, our sisters and brothers. We are living these stories. They are very real, and they are ongoing. They need to be heard and they need to be listened to, because the endings haven’t been written yet. We as a society now have to choose what happens in the next chapters,” said Aunty Geraldine.
Aunty Geraldine, who was one of 14 children in her family, will draw on personal experiences to highlight the insidious and omnipresent nature of the racism built into government systems.
“My mother moved us around often. She wanted to stay one step ahead, because always in the back of her mind was a very reasonable fear that the government would steal her children. We saw it happen around us. People were taken away from their communities, not due to anything they had done, but because the policies were inherently racist. The objective of the policies was to eradicate our people and our culture and the legacy of that objective lives on within the system today,” said Aunty Geraldine.
Although increasingly upbeat about the progress being made on the journey to Treaty and its potential to deliver big-picture reforms to solve the systemic problems inflicted on First Peoples, Aunty Geraldine is eager to highlight the solutions that are already within reach and should be implemented immediately – raising the age of criminal responsibility, independent investigations of police misconduct, keeping families together, reforming bail law, and taking a health response to public drunkenness, being prime examples.
“We don’t want excuses when it comes to reforms like raising the age of criminal responsibility, we need urgent action so no more ten year old children are thrown into prison. For two years, the Council of Attorneys-General having been sitting on their report recommending they raise the age to 14. It’s just not good enough,” said Aunty Geraldine.
The Victorian Government needs to #RaiseTheAge now. 10 year old children should not be sent to prison. This is a simple change that would make the world of difference and it doesn’t have to wait for Treaty negotiations – do it now. Our open letter here: https://t.co/DlLP7fcSS1 pic.twitter.com/Kn7mF2xzQF— First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (@firstpeoplesvic) December 8, 2022
The key to good policy reform according to Aunty Geraldine is ensuring that policies aren’t just made for First Peoples but are made by First Peoples. She said the Premier’s comments last week acknowledging that the child protection system was broken and should be rebuilt, were an important and encouraging development.
“We know our communities, we have the solutions. That’s why Treaty is about putting First Peoples in the driver’s seat when it comes to the decisions that affect our lives. We need the resources so our communities and organisations can identify the priorities and develop the proposals for re-designing systems like the child protection and justice system, because the current approach doesn’t work. This is not a justice system, it’s a system of injustice,” said Aunty Geraldine.
A copy of the Assembly’s written submission can be downloaded here.
Members of the public can watch Aunty Geraldine Atkinson’s appearance at the Yoorrook Justice Commission live at 10am Tuesday 13 December via their website here.
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