First Peoples in Victoria are strong and self-determining — key initiatives

This objective focuses on improving outcomes and services for First Peoples through prioritising actions to enable self-determination, including advancing treaty, protecting and promoting cultural rights and conducting a truth-telling process. It addresses trauma and supports healing; addresses the racism underpinning colonisation; and provides culturally safe systems and services. It also transfers power and resources to communities. DPC’s outcomes on the following key initiatives helped DPC achieve the ‘First Peoples in Victoria are strong and self-determining’ strategic objective.

Advanced Aboriginal self-determination and improved outcomes in line with the commitments made in the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2018–2023, the Self-Determination Reform Framework and the Victorian Closing the Gap Implementation Plan 2021–2023

In 2022–23 DPC undertook extensive engagement with government departments and Aboriginal Governance Forums to develop the Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report 2022 before it was tabled in Parliament on 22 June 2023. The annual Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report measures whole of government progress to improve outcomes for and with Victoria’s First Peoples, incorporating reporting against the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework, Self-Determination Reform Framework and Implementation Plan. DPC also updated the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework Data Dashboard alongside the Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report to promote community access to statewide and local data.

DPC has continued to support the Partnership Forum on Closing the Gap, the government’s formal partner for Closing the Gap implementation, as required under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap. In 2022–23 DPC worked closely with the Partnership Forum to action key commitments under the National Agreement including Victoria’s Expenditure Review and establishing a combined Place-Based Partnership and Community Data Project.

Progressed the Victorian Government’s negotiation of treaty elements with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (as the representative body for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians) in line with the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018

In 2022–23 DPC took a momentous step towards treaty, delivering all the institutional elements required under the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Actin equal partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, including the following:

  • The Treaty Negotiation Framework was executed. The framework sets out the agreed rules and process for negotiating treaties between the State and First Peoples. The framework establishes a treaty process in Victoria that is inclusive and open to all First Peoples, as well as ensuring the protection of the existing legal rights of Traditional Owners such as native title. Unique to Victoria, the framework also requires all parties, including the State, to engage with the Aboriginal Lore, Law and Cultural Authority respectfully and in good faith.
  • The Self-Determination Fund was established. The fund is an independent financial resource to support First Peoples to achieve equal standing with the State in treaty negotiations and build capacity, wealth and prosperity for First Peoples. The State committed $65 million to the fund over three years and has made its inaugural transfer of $35 million. The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is required to administer the Self-Determination Fund independently of the State in a way that fairly and equitably benefits First Peoples.
  • The Treaty Authority was established. The Treaty Authority is an independent ‘Treaty Umpire’ consisting of five to seven members who will oversee and facilitate treaty negotiations to ensure a fair, effective and culturally strong treaty process. The Treaty Authority and Other Elements Act 2022 became law in August 2022 and supports the establishment and ongoing operation of the Treaty Authority. DPC has also progressed operationalising the Treaty Authority by jointly appointing the Treaty Authority Panel to select Treaty Authority Members, together with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.
  • DPC has led work across the Victorian Government to inform the State’s position in negotiating the treaty elements, including by coordinating a Treaty Interdepartmental Committee.
  • DPC has prepared the Treaty Annual Report as required under the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act. The report outlines the work of the State in advancing the treaty process, ensuring the government is transparent in its work to advance treaty in Victoria.

Both the State and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria are set to embark on the next phase of the landmark treaty process and begin formal treaty negotiations in late 2023.

Led the whole of government response to the historic Yoorrook Justice Commission, the first ever truth-telling inquiry into the historical and ongoing systemic injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation

In 2022–23 DPC played a pivotal role in coordinating the whole of government response to the Yoorrook Justice Commission. DPC progressed key activities to fulfil its role in meeting the State’s commitment to genuine, transparent and proactive engagement with the Commission including:

  • leading updates to the Commission’s Letters Patent to:
    • require an additional interim report on priority reform issues by 31 August 2023
    • extend the term of the Commission by 12 months
    • appoint a new Commissioner, Kerrupmara Gunditjmara Traditional Owner Travis Lovett
  • coordinating the State’s response to 26 Notices to Produce issued by the Commission under the Inquiries Act 2014
  • coordinating the drafting of two whole of Government submissions to the Commission on its criminal justice and child protection lines of inquiry, including a cover letter from the Premier (the submissions and letters made unprecedented apologies and acknowledgements, reflecting the spirit of truth telling)
  • leading implementation of operational recommendations made by the Commission, in consultation with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria
  • coordinating the legal representation for the State’s response to the Commission
  • providing secretariat support for coordinating the State’s response to the Commission through the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s whole of government working group and the Interdepartmental Committee, governance groups that include members of all departments and Victoria Police
  • establishing a whole of government Community of Practice to support close collaboration of all departments and Victoria Police on policy responses and proactive engagement with the Commission’s inquiry
  • coordinating State witness preparation, culminating in the Commission’s questioning of 16 State witnesses from 27 April to 15 May 2023 — State witnesses included the Attorney-General, Minister for Police, Chief Commissioner of Police, Minister for Corrections, Youth Justice and Victim Support, Minister for Child Protection and Family Services, and senior public servants (State witnesses acknowledged the structural racism within the systems they are responsible for overseeing and the ongoing impacts of colonisation that continue to shape First Peoples’ interactions with these systems)
  • facilitating the independent process for selecting and recommending Commissioner Travis Lovett and supporting his appointment to the role on 6 March 2023.

Drove and supported strong cultural heritage management and protection including supporting Traditional Owners, maintaining the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register and acquitting statutory functions under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 such as activities to promote and enforce compliance

DPC continued to maintain Victoria’s
world-class Aboriginal cultural heritage management system, which is established under the Aboriginal Heritage Act. DPC
leads the regulatory, enforcement and approval processes under this system to protect Victoria’s significant Aboriginal cultural heritage.

The following statutory activities have taken place in 2022–23:

  • recording 835 Aboriginal places on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register, bringing the number of Aboriginal places recorded on the register to more than 40,000
  • making decisions on 53 cultural heritage management plans and seven amendments to plans prepared in parts of Victoria where Traditional Owners have not been formally recognised
  • issuing seven cultural heritage permits
  • making decisions on 70 preliminary Aboriginal heritage tests, which provide developers and land users certainty about whether a cultural heritage management plan is required for a proposed activity.

Support was provided to Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) to carry out their functions under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, administering 16 capacity development projects to Traditional Owner organisations to support their protection and management of cultural heritage. This included training in identifying and recording archaeological sites and Aboriginal cultural places.

DPC also delivered its Certificate IV in Cultural Heritage Management to Aboriginal students through its partnership with La Trobe University and administered two cultural heritage management workshops to Aboriginal people interested in pursuing a career in Aboriginal cultural heritage management.

DPC supported two Registered Aboriginal Party forums, providing RAPs opportunities to share knowledge and improve protection outcomes for Aboriginal heritage across the state.

DPC has undertaken its enforcement and compliance responsibilities this year. This has included:

  • 109 investigations into reports of noncompliance with the Aboriginal Heritage Act across Victoria
  • two prosecutions for harming Aboriginal cultural heritage.

DPC also continued to lead a proactive enforcement and compliance strategy, preventing the occurrence of offences under the Act and leading greater ongoing compliance and protection of Aboriginal heritage.

DPC continued to support Traditional Owners to better protect Victoria’s most significant Aboriginal cultural heritage places. This included supporting the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples’ decision to make an Ongoing Protection Declaration over Ghow Swamp Aboriginal Place in northern Victoria. DPC also progressed development of Ongoing Protection Declarations at other significant Victorian Aboriginal places.

DPC has worked in partnership with Traditional Owners to ensure significant Aboriginal cultural heritage is protected and appropriately managed by major development projects carried out in Victoria. This includes working with Traditional Owners and partner agencies to ensure Aboriginal places would be protected during construction of water infrastructure along the Murray River as part of the Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project. DPC has also been working with Traditional Owners, partner agencies and the Commonwealth Government to consider how Aboriginal heritage values can be managed by proposed offshore development projects in the waters south of Victoria.

Delivered the Aboriginal Community Infrastructure Program and the First Mortgage and Community Infrastructure Program to enable Aboriginal organisations to meet their infrastructure needs and serve their communities

In 2022–23 the Aboriginal Community Infrastructure Program delivered its sixth successful funding round. Round 6 awarded more than $11 million to 21 Aboriginal organisations to upgrade or build community infrastructure including:

  • $1.6 million for Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative to upgrade the Dalki Ghuli Community Hub into a fit-for-purpose facility in Horsham
  • $1.6 million for Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative to create a fit-for-purpose, culturally safe Healing Spirit Youth Hub for children and young people to access clinical and therapeutic services and support
  • $1.6 million for Worawa Aboriginal College to expand the existing meeting space in its professional learning and resource centre to increase accessibility and functionality
  • $1.6 million for Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, which is building stage two of its cultural research and exhibition complex in Barmah
  • $1.4 million for Bunjilwarra (in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service) to refurbish its existing administration building to support staff and case care recovery workers.

In 2022–23 DPC removed first mortgages from five properties owned by three Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as part of the First Mortgage and Community Infrastructure Program. First mortgages were removed from:

  • Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative property in Mooroopna
  • Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative’s property in Bairnsdale
  • Ngwala Aboriginal Corporation’s properties in Windsor, East St Kilda and Thornbury.

The removal of first mortgages gives these organisations full control of their assets, increased financial autonomy and the ability to boost their economic growth and stability. With more choice in how their assets are used, these organisations can further contribute to the social, cultural and economic development of their communities.

Delivering the Munarra Centre for Regional Excellence, a $36 million major capital works project

In 2022–23 DPC continued its focus on delivering the first major project for First Peoples – State Relations. The Munarra Centre for Regional Excellence (MCRE) will drive economic growth in the Goulbourn Murray region for both First Peoples and non–First Nations people. It will provide a
fit-for-purpose, safe space from which Aboriginal community-controlled and led organisations and their partners can deliver culturally responsive education, employment, health and wellbeing initiatives. At the same time, the MCRE will showcase and celebrate First Peoples’ knowledge, culture and entrepreneurship as a regional, state and national asset.

In 2022–23 DPC completed the design of the MCRE and appointed a 70 per cent First Nations–owned contractor. Construction of the MCRE is underway, with the project forecast to be delivered at the start of 2024.

The project has been delivered in line with best practice First Peoples engagement,
and in alignment with principles of

DPC also continued to provide advice to other agencies in relation to infrastructure projects, including best practice design and construction engagement and procurement processes with First Nations communities.

Supported and resourced Traditional Owner groups by delivering nation-building initiatives, particularly that build and strengthen non–formally recognised Traditional Owner groups

DPC continued to support the Traditional Owner Nation-building Package in partnership with First Nations Legal and Research Services and the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations. The package supports both formally and non–formally recognised Traditional Owner groups across Victoria to build strong foundations to ensure they can prepare for and participate in treaty negotiations and deliver on statutory and cultural responsibilities.

In 2022–23 the package strengthened its focus on supporting Traditional Owner groups in the regions without formal recognition.

Support provided under the package in
2022–23 included:

  • supporting 499 Traditional Owners across the Mid North West, Central North, North East and Far East Gippsland regions of Victoria to hold eight gatherings, six projects and four training workshops
  • supporting First Nations Legal and Research Services to continue to provide essential independent legal and research services to support Traditional Owners progress formal recognition in Victoria including engagement with approximately 51 Traditional Owner families and small groups and more than 300 individuals across the four regions without formal recognition
  • supporting the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations for core funding, the Nation-building Resource Pool and administration of the Resource Pool, which provides flexible funding to formally recognised Traditional Owner groups for nation-building, treaty readiness and cultural heritage–related projects to be delivered by December 2024
  • extending Traditional Owner engagement officers in each Registered Aboriginal Party until December 2023, to support nation-building and treaty readiness.

Supported the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council to progress and fulfil its statutory functions

DPC has continued to provide secretariat and operational support to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council to meet its responsibilities under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, including the appointment and oversight of RAPs.

In 2022–23 DPC convened six meetings (one regional) of the council, in line with the Aboriginal Heritage Act, over two days. During this time, DPC has supported the council through secretariat and operational support to achieve the following:

  • presented the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples with the State of Victoria’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage 2016–2021, prepared by Dr Terri Janke and informed by lengthy engagement with RAPs and Victorian Traditional Owners
  • endorsed three new projects, aligned with Dhawura Ngilan: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage in Australia and the Best Practice Standards in Indigenous Cultural Heritage Management and Legislation
  • undertook a comprehensive review of ancestors in the council’s care (more than 2,000 cases) to prepare for the return of many ancestors to their Country
    in 2023–24
  • introduced the Ancestral Remains Repatriation Fund, endorsed by the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples, to ensure Traditional Owners are adequately resourced to take part in repatriation processes
  • convened seven Ancestral Remains Advisory Committee meetings to make statutory decisions on the management and return of ancestors (meetings also decided on cultural heritage management plans and requests to access the register)
  • signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Melbourne to jointly progress the repatriation of ancestors and cultural material that once comprised part of the Donald Thomson Collection
  • provided advice to the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples pursuant to the Aboriginal Heritage Actconcerning the making of an Ongoing Protection Declaration, the appointment of authorised officers, and the introduction of heritage adviser guidelines
  • received and reviewed Registered Aboriginal Party applications and oversaw several complaints against Registered Aboriginal Parties, some of which have progressed through mediation to resolution
  • promoted cultural heritage in several forums and contexts including the Registered Aboriginal Party Forums, the Heritage Chairs and Officials for Australia and New Zealand, industry events including with Master Builders Association, interagency events including with the Environmental Protection Authority. The council also performed an educative role with Certificate IV students and DPC staff seeking to become authorised officers under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Progressed and fulfilled the Victorian Government’s statutory responsibilities under the Aboriginal Lands Act 1970 and supported self-governance and self-determination activities at Framlingham and Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trusts

The 2022–23 State Budget provided $2 million over four years in output funding to strengthen the independence of the trusts. This initiative provided funding for:

  • both communities to deliver self-determined services and initiatives to support: social and emotional wellbeing; emerging young leaders to gain the necessary skills to manage trust affairs in the future; and greater access to professional training opportunities for management
  • the Victorian Government to appropriately respond to the independent review of the Act
  • added support for Framlingham Aboriginal Trust to successfully exit administration.

Negotiated and implemented agreements between the State and Traditional Owner groups under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010

The Land Justice Unit joined DPC on 1 January 2023 following machinery of government changes after the November 2022 State Election.

During 2022–23 DPC has:

  • advised the government on increasing compensation entitlements for Traditional Owners as part of a Land Use Activity Agreement under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act, in response to changes in Australian law
  • continued negotiations under the Act with the Gunaikurnai people, Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples and Dja Dja Wurrung peoples to supplement the interim agreements reached with those groups in 2022
  • continued to implement agreements under the Act with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation, Taungurung Land and Waters Council and Barengi Gadjin Land Council Aboriginal Corporation
  • continued to support Dja Dja Wurrung’s building of its Corporate and Community Centre at Hattam Street, Bendigo, including attending the garni (digging stick) ceremony on 16 June to celebrate the start of construction
  • completed the return of title to Taungurung of the Nyagaroon property (formerly Acheron Youth Justice Camp)
  • maintained engagement with several groups about their entry into or resumption of Act negotiations
  • inputted into other reform projects that might affect the rights of Victorian Traditional Owners to ensure their voice is heard and that they can take opportunities to advance.

Supported Traditional Owners to achieve the native title determination outcomes they seek

In 2022–23 DPC achieved the following key outcomes:

  • On 28 March 2023 the Eastern Maar People’s native title claim was largely resolved in a ceremonial hearing of the Federal Court at Logan’s Beach in Warrnambool to recognise Eastern Maar’s native title rights. Work continues on resolving some parts of the claim.
  • DPC continued to work with First Peoples and to support the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples to respond to native title claims made in the Federal Court.

DPC has also worked with First Peoples’ legal representatives and supported the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples to respond to native title matters currently before the Federal Court, including by:

  • taking part in hearings in the Boonwurrung proceeding
  • taking part in hearings into claims by Gunditjmara and Eastern Maar
  • taking part in mediation of the First Peoples of the Millewa-Mallee proceeding
  • considering registration and notification issues in the Wamba Wemba and the Wadawurrung claims.

Work in partnership with the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation to negotiate changes in response to the 2018 Initial Outcomes Review of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 agreement signed in 2013

DPC has partnered with the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation to respond to the Initial Outcomes Review conducted by Professor Mick Dodson, concluding in October 2018, including by implementing a Revised Settlement Package, signed on 25 October 2022. The package:

  • increased funding commitments (for example, providing a one-off implementation payment, additional corporation funding, ongoing management of natural resource funding and ongoing joint management funding)
  • expanded the Local Government Engagement Strategy
  • strengthened and consolidated the Natural Resource Agreement (for example, clarifying take and use rights and strengthening strategies to support participation and employment of the Dja Dja Wurrung people in the management of Natural Resources)
  • introduced the Traditional Owner Land Natural Resource Agreement (extending certain take and use rights outlined in the Natural Resource Agreement to all Traditional Owner land within the Agreement Area in which the corporation, a subsidiary of the corporation or a member of the Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Owner group has an estate in fee simple)
  • committed to continuing to negotiate with the corporation in 2023 on changes to the Land Use Activity Agreement to complete the revised Settlement Package.

Progress towards achieving the objective

The output performance measures that provide information on DPC’s progress in achieving the ‘First Peoples in Victoria are strong and self-determining’ strategic objective are outlined below.

Objective indicator: First Peoples in Victoria have increased control over decisions that impact their lives.

Performance measureUnit2019–202020–212021–222022–23
Capacity-building activities provided for Traditional Owners to support the management and protection of Aboriginal cultural and intangible heritagenumber16101616

More details on DPC’s 2022–23 performance against its output performance measures are provided on pages 49–59.