Australia’s colonisation review

The Australian state of Victoria has announced an inquiry into the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people

Photo by Getty Images on BBC News

— 2 minute read — By Derry Salter

The Australian government in the state of Victoria aim to address past injustices against its Aborigine population; this will include atrocities such as the massacres of indigenous people by white settlers. The inquiry follows suit to other Commonwealth nations which have previously formally examined the impact of past colonial policies.

With the powers of a Royal Commission – Australia’s highest form of public inquiry – the examination will begin later this year, allowing witnesses to appear before public hearings. The inquiry, titled the Yoo-rrook (Truth) Justice Commission, is modelled on one similar to that established by Nelson Mandela in post-apartheid South Africa.

After British settlement in 1788, Aboriginal Australians lost their land, instead receiving decades of systematic abuse and injustice. The state government in a joint statement with indigenous leaders stated, “today has been owed for 233 years. 233 years of violence, dispossession and deprivation.” It is clear that a proper examination was long overdue with the government now “committed to telling the truth.”

The Australian people have been advised to prepare to hear “horrific stories” as a large focus of the enquiry will be on the Stolen Generation, concerning children that were removed from their families under a state-sanction. Such tragedies are framed as historical issues, however, massacres have been a common occurrence in Australia as recently as 1928. There are some people alive today willing to give first-hand evidence of the atrocities.

Compared to the rest of Australia’s states, Victoria has taken the greatest leap towards reconciliation and reparations. Despite being a momentous occasion, the Australian government have drawn criticism for not establishing an inquiry sooner. In 2017, the government rejected a landmark proposal – the Uluru Statement from the Heart – from indigenous leaders, which aimed to create an indigenous advisory group.

Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders make up around 3% of the population. Past colonial abuse is still apparent today in Australia, with indigenous people facing “ongoing injustices” such as low-life expectancy, unemployment and social exclusion. The First People’s Assembly of Victoria stated that, “it will compel us to confront what’s come before. To acknowledge that the pain in our past lives on in our present.”