The Victorian government has been given a brief extension to produce evidence sought by the state’s truth-telling inquiry, or face possible criminal charges.
Lawyers for the state government were brought to the Yoorrook Justice Commission on Monday after repeatedly failing to meet deadlines set by the inquiry.
Georgina Coghlan KC, acting on behalf of the state government, acknowledged her client had not met deadlines set by the commission but said the sheer amount of work required in a short period of time had made it “practically impossible” to achieve.
Ms Coghlan told the directions hearing that the delays weren’t from a “lack of respect or commitment,” but simply “a sign of trying to produce, but not being able to.”
Ms Coghlan sought extensions for all outstanding notices to produce, conceding the delays would affect the commission’s ability to provide an interim and final report on its own deadlines.
She asked for a month longer, but the commission granted an extension only until Thursday, April 6.
Acting on behalf of the commission, counsel assisting Sarala Fitzgerald said the government had still not answered 178 questions asked of them on February 12.
A document provided by the Department of Justice also did not answer 71 questions, she added.
Ms Fitzgerald said the delays caused by the government placed future hearings in jeopardy.
Senior bureaucrats had been scheduled to give evidence to Yoorrook during a full week of hearings starting Monday as part of the inquiry into injustices experienced by Aboriginal people in Victoria’s criminal and child protection systems.
Commission chair Eleanor Bourke agreed there was a large amount of questions and documents required to be answered and provided by the government, but said that should have come as no surprise.
“The state must be willing to provide the materials required for proper accounting of current laws, the policies and practices in a timely manner,” Professor Bourke said.
“It is impossible for Yoorrook to make recommendations to address ongoing injustices without this information.
“The time for rolling extensions are over.”
Commissioner Travis Lovett was scathing of the government’s lack of accountability.
He said many Indigenous people had set aside their trauma to speak before the commission, but the government had not treating the inquiry with the same openness.
“We hope that the state will come forward and be more forward and be more transparent and responsive,” Mr Lovett said.
“This truth-telling process also needs to be some truth sharing of some home truths from the state.”
Yoorrook is the first formal truth-telling inquiry into past and ongoing injustices against Indigenous people in Victoria as part of the state’s path to treaty.
Established with royal commission powers, Yoorrook can compel people to produce documents, attend hearings and give evidence.
It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a notice to produce documents without a reasonable excuse.
The directions hearing is set to resume on April 4, when the commission is expected to set a timetable for future hearings.
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