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Aboriginal self-determination

Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way – Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families 2018–2028 is the key Aboriginal-led Victorian family violence agreement. It commits Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal services and government to work together and be accountable for ensuring that ‘Aboriginal people, families and communities are stronger, safer, thriving and living free from family violence’. The Dhelk Dja three-year action plan sets out the actions and supporting activities required to progress the Dhelk Dja Agreement’s five strategic priorities (see Figure 4). Each of these priorities recognises the need to invest in Aboriginal culture, leadership and decision making as the key to ending family violence in Victorian Aboriginal communities.

Figure 4: Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way Strategic Priorities

  • Aboriginal culture and leadership
  • Aboriginal-led prevention
  • Self-determining Aboriginal family violence support and services
  • System transformation based on self-determination principles
  • Aboriginal-led and informed innovation, data and research

Source: Based on Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way – Strong Culture, Strong Peoples, Strong Families Agreement 25

The Dhelk Dja Partnership Forum was established to make key decisions, advance the strategic priorities and monitor progress against the agreement.26 The forum meets three times a year and is attended by the 11 Dhelk Dja Action Group chairpersons and Aboriginal community organisations, which make up the Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus, along with representatives from government departments and agencies. Co‑chairing arrangements are shared on a rotating basis between the Dhelk Dja chairpersons and the Deputy Secretary and CEO of Family Safety Victoria. Working groups, aligned to the agreement’s five strategic priorities, progress delivery of initiatives under the Dhelk Dja three-year action plan in collaboration with the Aboriginal Strategy Unit within Family Safety Victoria. Some of the positive features of the operation of the forum that we have observed are:

  • the inclusion of a broad range of voices from Victoria’s Aboriginal community in the forum and its associated action and working groups
  • meeting of Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus prior to the forum to set the agenda
  • respectful and robust representation of different perspectives from the community at forum meetings and Family Safety Victoria’s responsiveness to matters raised by Aboriginal forum members
  • strong reporting mechanisms from the regional action groups and Dhelk Dja working groups back into the forum, with clear accountability for progress, risks and issues against actions in the three-year work plans
  • representation of an Aboriginal forum member on the Family Violence Reform Advisory Group (and working groups) to ensure connection between the work of the governance bodies
  • reflection from local Aboriginal organisations that they are well represented and informed about reform work being undertaken through their representatives on the forum and its working and regional action groups.

The forum was also raised by several non-Aboriginal sector stakeholders as an excellent model of dedicated, community-led governance that could be adopted in other areas to deliver improved outcomes for communities.

On progress towards self-determination within the family violence reform, Koori Caucus members raised that while there has been strong engagement by government with Victoria’s Aboriginal community since the Royal Commission, this has not yet substantively moved beyond influencing the reform to being decision-makers when it comes to programs and services for the Aboriginal community.

Funding was given as one example where decisions about what is funded still largely sit within government. Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus members raised the need for flexibility in funding arrangements to be able to tailor delivery to the diverse needs of local communities, and for longer funding agreements to build capability and sustainability in programs. The impact of short-term funding has been raised in past Monitor’s reports as a significant issue across many areas of service delivery. Funding arrangements for Aboriginal organisations are also complex and fragmented across different government portfolio areas (i.e. health, families, family violence, education) despite considerable overlap in the approaches and objectives of different funding streams. 

Investment in Aboriginal frontline family violence services under the Dhelk Dja agreement is being delivered through the Dhelk Dja Family Violence Fund and the Community Initiatives Fund:

  • Dhelk Dja Family Violence Fund: $18.2 million over two years (2021–22 and 2022–23), providing a flexible pool of funding for eligible Aboriginal organisations and community groups to deliver Aboriginal-led tailored responses for victim survivors and people who use violence. A total of $13.4 million has been allocated to date to 46 projects across four streams: frontline family violence services; holistic healing; preventing the cycle of violence; and workforce capability. 
  • Dhelk Dja Community Initiatives Fund: $1.1 million annually to implement community-led projects that educate, prevent, reduce and respond to family violence in Aboriginal communities across Victoria.

The allocation of funding under the Dhelk Dja Community Initiatives Fund is determined by each Dhelk Dja Action Group ($100,000 per region) based on applications from local Aboriginal community groups and organisations. Allocation of funding under the larger Dhelk Dja Family Violence Fund is determined within government, in consultation with Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus based on Caucus-agreed priorities and activities. Family Safety Victoria has committed to working with Koori Caucus in 2022–23 to develop a 10‑year Aboriginal family violence investment strategy for the following year’s budget cycle27 that will include ’a process for the Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus and Partnership Forum to influence future government budget cycle processes and decisions’. 

Ultimately, Victoria’s treaty process28 will establish the path to full self-determination and will inevitably need to address the complex funding arrangements for providing services to Aboriginal people and communities. In the interim, in developing the Aboriginal family violence investment strategy with the Dhelk Dja Koori Caucus, consideration should be given to how the Aboriginal community can have greater decision making authority in the distribution of future family violence funding allocated by government [relates to action 10].


25 Family Safety Victoria. Available at (accessed 15 December 2021).

26 Under the auspice of the Dhelk Dja Partnership Forum the Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO) Family Violence Sector Forum, comprising CEOs of all family violence–funded ACCOs, provides a formal engagement and consultation mechanism to support the development of culturally safe services and responses for Aboriginal people impacted by family violence.

27 Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (2020): Family Violence Reform Rolling Action Plan 2020–2023: Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way. Available at (accessed 5 December 2021).

28 First Peoples – State Relations, Treaty in Victoria. Available at (accessed 15 December 2021).