Castan Centre director appointed as truth-telling commissioner

The respected Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law and former justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Professor the Honourable Kevin H Bell AM QC, has been appointed as a Commissioner in Australia’s first truth-telling process.

Professor Bell is one of five historic truth-telling Commissioners appointed to the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission to examine current and past injustices against First Nations people – and charter a new shared future for all Victorians. He is the only non-Aboriginal member of the Commission.

“The appointment marks the beginning of an inclusive future for all Victoria, and the next step in an historic journey towards truth, justice and healing for Aboriginal Victorians,” Professor Bell said.

The Commissioners have been selected by an independent panel and carry knowledge and experience across the fields of law, sociology and systemic disadvantage, land rights, history, trauma and healing.

Professor Bell says the appointment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commissioners and the establishment of Australia’s first truth-telling Commission is a historic day for Victoria and all Australia – and the beginning of a fairer Victoria for all.

“The Commission will establish a culturally sensitive and safe procedure for hearing the stories of Aboriginal people in relation to the impact of colonisation upon them, both historical and ongoing.  That procedure will be based on principles of care, trust and respect and take into account the trauma that many Aboriginal people have suffered and the intergenerational nature of that trauma,”  Professor Bell said.

“The truth-telling elements of the Commission’s terms of reference are very important but the Commission is also required to identify systemic injustices in Victoria which impact upon Aboriginal people and to recommend ways in which those injustices may be addressed and redressed in the future.

“I would emphasise the significance of this positive and forward-thinking aspect of the Commission’s responsibilities and their link with the ongoing treaty-making process in which Victoria is engaged.”

Respected Wergaia/Wamba Wamba Elder, Professor Eleanor Bourke, has been appointed as the Chair of the Commission – bringing with her decades of outstanding leadership and tireless dedication to advancing Aboriginal education and cultural heritage.

She is joined by Professor Bell and Commissioners including:

  • Dr Wayne Atkinson – a Yorta Yorta/Dja Dja Wurrung Elder and Traditional Owner and accomplished academic with substantial knowledge and experience in human rights, land justice, cultural heritage and Koori oral history programs.
  • Ms Sue-Anne Hunter – a Wurundjeri and Ngurai illum Wurrung woman recognised as a leader in trauma and healing practices.
  • Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter – a Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) woman descending from the Pairrebenne People of the North East Nation, and a Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and leading expert in systemic disadvantage, inequality and Indigenous Data Sovereignty.

Professor Bell says the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission “will be addressing matters of fundamental importance to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians and ensuring that society is based on respect for human rights and especially equal respect for the inherent dignity of all people.”

The Commission has been tasked with investigating two broad streams of work: both the contemporary and historical injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation – across all areas of social, political and economic life.

Independent of Government and with all the powers of a Royal Commission, the Yoo-rrook Commissioners will make recommendations for institutional and legal reforms to address these injustices, as well as providing an interim report with initial findings that should be considered as immediate priorities through the Treaty making process.

The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission builds on the state’s nation-leading work on Treaty.

It will deliver an interim report to the Government by 30 June 2022, and a final report by 30 June 2024.

Learn more about the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission.

Listen: Professor Kevin H Bell and Professor Eleanor Bourke discuss the groundbreaking Yoo-rrook Justice Commission on the Law Report (ABC).