Decolonising transitional justice in Australia: ‘Truth-telling’ about a settler-colonial legacy

Dr Vanessa Barolsky1

1Alfred Deakin Institute, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

This presentation will examine the potential contribution to justice of the 2017 Uluru Statement and in particular it’s call for truth telling. I will argue that the types of truth-telling called for in the Uluru Statement hold the potential for a radicalised form of transitional justice that avoids some of the limitations of truth processes in international contexts. The Uluru Statement calling for Voice, Treaty and Truth was released by the government-appointed Referendum Council established to investigate constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander peoples. While demands for Voice and Treaty have received some public attention, the demand for truth-telling and its relationship to Voice and Treaty are only now beginning to be explored. This article analyses how truth-telling has been articulated in the Uluru Statement and conceptualised by participants in the regional dialogues held by the Referendum Council, the recently established Yoo-rrook Truth and Justice Commission in the state of Victoria and in local government workshops on truth-telling conducted by Reconciliation Australia. I contend that the demand for truth-telling in the Uluru Statement is part of a call for a process of political transformation through localised, dialogical engagement between settler and Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander communities about new terms of political association. The truth-telling envisaged in the Uluru Statement does not only recognise violation but also Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander peoples’ political agency and ongoing sovereignty. It is understood as part of an ‘agonistic’ form of political engagement between equal partners that may or may not lead to reconciliation. I argue that this call for political transformation offers an opportunity for a decolonial process that avoids some of the limitations of paradigmatic transitional justice by de-centring the nation-state and moving away from a teleological conception of time in a ‘restorying’ of Australian history and identity.


Dr Barolsky is an Associate Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. She works across several disciplinary areas including sociology, anthropology and criminology to tackle questions related to social conflict and its transformation. This includes critical engagements with social cohesion, truth and reconciliation, law and justice. Prior to ADI Dr Barolsky worked in South Africa where she led numerous interdisciplinary studies on key social challenges. Dr Barolsky also worked at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) where she authored one chapter of the Commission’s final report and subsequently completed her PHD on the TRC.


Dec 08 2021