Jan 31, 2023

WARNING: VACCHO advises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that the following article contains references to those who have returned to the Dreaming.

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) demands decisive action to address the dire failures laid bare by the findings of the coronial inquest into the death of Gunditjmara Dja Dja Wurrung Wiradjuri Yorta Yorta woman, Veronica Nelson.

Ms. Nelson passed away in a cell at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre on 2 January 2020 – less than 48-hours after her arrival at the Melbourne women’s prison.

VACCHO extends its most sincere condolences to Veronica Nelson’s family, who have shown unwavering courage and been pillars of strength throughout the Coronial Inquest.

Coroner Simon McGregor described the treatment of Veronica Nelson by corrections staff as “cruel and degrading”, and found that it breached Section 10 of Victoria’s Human Rights Charter.

Veronica Nelson’s death was preventable; had she been transferred to a hospital at any point between her arrival at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre and her death she very likely would be alive today.

The multiple failings by numerous Correct Care and Corrections Victoria staff were exacerbated by poor, ineffective systems in place that prevented necessary communication and documentation.

Key recommendations made by the Coroner following the five-week inquest include:

– Victorian Government must urgently develop a review and implementation strategy of the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

– An urgent review of the bail act is required to repeal any provision that has a disproportionate effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

– The Department of Justice must work in partnership with VACCHO to build capacity in providing in-reach health services in prisons.

VACCHO implores the Victorian Government to take urgent action to end the tragic and completely unnecessary loss of lives that continue to devastate entire Communities.

VACCHO have been long-time advocates for embedding cultural safety and Aboriginal ways of Knowing, Being, and Doing across the mainstream health system, where many of our Communities still experience racist and unsafe care.

Aboriginal-led culturally safe care must be central to the way forward for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria’s prison health system.

VACCHO acknowledges Victorian Attorney General The Hon. Jaclyn Symes’ commitment to considering bail law reforms this year – and maintain the Victorian Government must take swift action to ensure further devastating and unnecessary loss of life.

Quotes attributable to Jill Gallagher, Chief Executive Officer, VACCHO:
“The Veronica Nelson Coronial Inquiry has shone a bright light on a prison health system that appears to be ill-equipped to meet the complex health and wellbeing needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“One of the things I found most heartbreaking from the evidence provided was the sheer lack of human rights and human decency. To hear multiple cries for help go unanswered was absolutely devastating.”

“These deeply distressing findings provide an important opportunity for the Victorian Government to work with VACCHO and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) on finding a solution that looks after the health and wellbeing of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community in Victoria.”

“This is a state of emergency – something must change. Aboriginal-led measures and methods of care must be central to the way forward to prevent more members of our Community from having their lives cut cruelly short.”

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VACCHO is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria – the only one of its kind – with 33 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as Members. VACCHO Members support over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and combined are the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the state.