'Children being taken' while reforms delayed: Yoorrook

Victoria's First Peoples minister has defended delaying action on criminal justice and child protection reforms despite warnings it is adding to Aboriginal peoples' trauma. 

On Thursday, Natalie Hutchins faced the Yoorrook Justice Commission and was grilled about Labor's response to the truth-telling inquiry's recommendations in September.

The commission made 46 recommendations after speaking to 84 witnesses in almost one month.

The government did not respond until April when it accepted only four in full and 24 in principle.

It was considering another 15 recommendations, including a standalone child protection system and a new independent police oversight body.

The government outright rejected three recommendations, including raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 without exception and outlawing the detention of children aged under 16.

Yoorrook deputy chair Sue-Anne Hunter asked Ms Hutchins if the government - while it considered the recommendations - would also consider high rates of child removal, deaths in custody and the ongoing trauma of Indigenous people.

"Because while we're waiting, I can reassure you that a child this morning has probably been taken," Ms Hunter said.

Deputy Chair Sue-Anne Hunter
Ms Hunter said the government should also consider child removals while it's deliberating.

"If that can't be taken into consideration, I don't know why we're here.

"We have to face these people - our people - who have been dispossessed (and) constantly traumatised.

"These aren't just words on papers and it shouldn't be a numbers game."

On April 3, in response to the recommendations, Ms Hutchins said she understood Indigenous people were frustrated and wanted quicker solutions after battling the effects of colonisation for more than 200 years.

"But we have an obligation as a government to the Victorian people to make sure that we get the laws and the changes and the policy settings right," she said at the time.

The Treaty and First Peoples Minister on Thursday said she was a champion for the treaty process, which council assisting the commission, Tony McAvoy SC, suggested was at odds with her earlier comments.

Ms Hutchins denied her position was that the government knew best and would make its own decisions.

"My (April 3) comments are about the government being (able) to deliver it in the right way," she told the inquiry.

"Trying to address 200 years' worth of damage and destruction in numerous months is probably not realistic."

Commissioners said the delay was an injustice for Indigenous people, and questioned whether Ms Hutchins grasped the severity of its impact.

Commissioner Tony North KC suggested the minister missed an opportunity to give Indigenous people a clear timeline for when they could expect change.

"This is actually an every day, lived suffering," he said.

The minister said she was committed to producing a full implementation plan by the final quarter of 2024.

She acknowledged Indigenous peoples' pain through the delay and said there was a sense of urgency, however, she was bound by parliamentary and legislative processes.

Ms Hutchins suggested Victoria's treaty process could lead to a more fast-tracked process whereby the government could respond to recommendations outside of the usual legislative queue.

"Don't think that our government sat on a report for six months and didn't debate it ... we did at many levels talk through all the recommendations," Ms Hutchins said.

"I, quite frankly, did not want to come to this commission and not have a response out there.

"But I want to give you the confidence that with a bit of time, change will happen, and power will be handed over in these spaces."

Yoorrook is creating an official public record on the impact of colonisation on Indigenous people in Victoria and will recommend actions to address historical and ongoing injustices.

It will inform the state's treaty negotiations.

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