What The Rest Of Australia Can Learn From Victoria’s First Nations Treaty Authority

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Australia’s first independent body to oversee First Nations treaty negotiations was enshrined in law in Victoria’s parliament last month.

This makes Victoria the first state and territory to pass legislation for an Indigenous treaty authority that will be completely independent from the government. And it’s a huge next step before the first treaties in Victoria can be officially signed.

How Victoria’s Treaty Authority Is Going To Work

Geraldine Atkinson, a proud Bangerang woman from the Northeast of Victoria, is an elected member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria’s chamber.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is the body democratically elected to develop treaty framework in the state, and act as an independent umpire to oversee all treaty negotiations.

“I would like to ask your audience… to be allies with us in this process. I want them to be able to make themselves aware of why treaty is needed. I want them to walk this walk with us and be part of our journey towards treaty. That’s what I would ask of your audience,” Geraldine told Junkee.

In 2017 the Uluru Statement from the Heart was issued to the Australian people, which broadly called for constitutional change based on justice and self determination for Indigenous peoples. To enact this change, the statement called for three things: Voice, Truth and Treaty.

Those three pillars from the Uluru statement are underpinning what Geraldine and her assembly are doing in Victoria.

“What we’ve been able to do here, is achieve all three. First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is democratically elected… so that’s what we see as being the voice and we’ve been able to be that voice.

We have a truth telling process. What we said to the government, we can’t have a treaty without truth, [the] truth needed to be told. We asked for a royal commission. So we were given the Yoorrook Justice Commission. The first thing that they did was go out and talk to elders in the community, of course, which is only naturally what you should do. But it’s about getting out and hearing from all First Peoples young and old. We’re very, very near to completing the process for treaty,” Geraldine told Junkee.

Treaty isn’t one thing but a plethora of recognised rights that First Nations people will be able to negotiate, like sovereignty over land, seas or waters. As a comparison, Canada has 70 recognised treaties.

What Can The Rest Of Australia Learn?

So far, the federal government has committed to establishing a Voice to Parliament on a federal level, which would be added to the Constitution if successful through a referendum.

“So we think they have a lot to learn from what we’ve done here in Victoria, about the processes that we’ve put in place working towards a treaty. And as I said before, the truth telling was really an important part of that, because that then enables us [and] gives us the evidence then in relation to negotiating those treaties. So that’s really important.

“It’s about recognising the past, it’s recognising First Peoples as being First Peoples of Australia. I really believe that the very beginning of colonisation, that’s when a treaty should have been made. So it’s taken us something like 230 plus years to get to this stage,” Geraldine said.

The first treaties in Victoria could be signed as early as next year.

“We’re making generational change really, and that’s what’s happening”.