Politics

Victoria Just Passed Australia’s First Bill To Make A Treaty With Indigenous People

This is one big step towards a treaty.

treaty

Last night, Victoria passed a pretty historic law, becoming the first Australian state to take a real legal step towards a treaty with Indigenous people.

The bill, titled the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018, passed the Victorian Upper House last night after around five hours of debate. It acknowledges that Indigenous people are the traditional owners of Victoria, and sets up a framework to create an Aboriginal Representative Body, which in turn will begin to lay the groundwork for treaty negotiations between Indigenous people and the state.

“The contents of a future treaty or treaties are yet unknown,” the bill acknowledges, but notes that one could “help heal the wounds of the past, provide recognition for historic wrongs, address ongoing injustices, support reconciliation and promote the fundamental human rights of Aboriginal peoples, including the right to self-determination.”

It also makes clear that “the State is committed to working with Aboriginal Victorians to negotiate a treaty or treaties on terms that will help tangibly improve their lives, and the lives of future generations.”

That’s an important commitment, and while a number of other Australian states have taken steps towards similar treaties, this is the first time it’s been laid down in law.

Greens MP Lidia Thorpe, who is a Gunnai-Kurnai and Gunditjmara woman, wrote on Twitter that the bill’s passage was a “historic moment in our peoples’ struggle for justice”.

“Now the hard work really begins for the grassroots Clans to take back the process and make it our own”.

Thorpe also told NITV that there’s still “some work to do to keep the government honest” and make sure the treaty process continues to centre Indigenous Victorians. While the Greens proposed 42 amendments to yesterday’s bill during the long debate, which they argued addressed many concerns raised by Indigenous people, none of these amendments were successful.

Concerns over how the treaty will progress are perhaps best demonstrate by the fact that the bill comes in the same week that the Victorian Government is being criticised for planning to destroy a stand of trees which are sacred to the Djap Wurrung peoples in order to expand a highway. All week, there have been protests to try to make the government slow down and consult with community on this, which you can contribute to here if you have the resources.

In short, there’s no treaty yet, but yesterday the Victorian Government took an important step towards one. Time, and their actions from here on out, will tell as to whether they continue to sincerely commit to one.