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Issue #1762      January 25, 2017

Victoria on the path to a treaty

Victoria’s treaty process will next involve a second series of community consultations, which will culminate in a ceremonial “on country” event to be held in April involving the state’s traditional owners, Aboriginal organisations and the treaty interim working group.

The event and lead-up consultations are viewed as key components on the path to delivering treaty legislative options to state Parliament by July.

Last month, a summary of the first chapter of regional consultations was delivered to more than 300 stakeholders in a one-day forum held at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre in Southbank.

Between May and December last year, international consultancy firm Ernst & Young – engaged by Aboriginal Victoria – worked with the treaty interim working group to hold 10 workshops in regional centres around Victoria. The objective was to explore how a state-wide Aboriginal representative body might be structured and what is expected to fall within its remit.

Summarising the process of each of those consultations, Ernst & Young representative Joe Hedger explained that each consultation began with three working assumptions: That the purpose of a representative assembly was to facilitate Aboriginal voices into genuine treaty negotiations; that a representative body was to be a formal and permanent organisation, established under legislation and independent of government; and that it was to be well-resourced to ensure its independence.

Mr Hedger, a Bundjalung man, said participants were then asked to discuss additional ideas and report back on key design principles, roles and functions of a potential “Treaty Assembly”.

Mark Dingle, also of Ernst & Young, described the findings of the consultations: “We heard that they wanted a representative body that was practical,” he said. “They didn’t want a complex and overly-engineered structure. They wanted simplicity and practicality in the way this thing is designed.”

Issues

The issues of inclusivity, unity and transparency were also raised regularly in regards to developing a representative entity.

“These will be the top set of design principles that will be given as instructions in our next phase of building a representative body,” Mr Dingle said.

Earlier, state Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins said the Victorian Cabinet had given its full support for the process for a treaty to go forward.

“There’s a need for a roadmap to treaty and the decisions that are made here about developing that road map will be backed by the government. We want to walk in your shadows,” she said.

Members of the treaty interim working group then discussed their observations of the regional consultations before addressing questions from the floor. “The community down home really mentioned working from the ground up. Also working from our tribes and clans,” said interim working group member Tarneen Onus-Williams, a Gunditjmara woman.

The forum also heard from international Indigenous legal experts Dr Carwyn Jones, from New Zealand, and Celeste Haldane, from Canada, as well as Melbourne Law School’s Associate Professor Mark McMillan.

The December forum followed a February 2016 self-determination meeting at which constitutional recognition was roundly rejected by representatives of state-wide Aboriginal communities in preference for a treaty. A two-day forum was then held in May 2016 during which stakeholders voted to proceed with the first chapter of community consultations to determine how a representative body might look.

But Gunai-Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe criticised the form and direction of the first consultative process, describing a lack of Aboriginal control in the development of a representative body as just one aspect that led to her recent withdrawal from the interim working group, along with fellow Victoria Traditional Owners Land Justice Group representative and Yung Balag clan Elder Gary Murray.

“List of things”

“We’ve got a whole list of things that we had issues with,” Ms Thorpe said.

“We wrote those concerns to the minister and the premier at the time, before we withdrew. Still to this day we’ve had no response.”

Mr Murray points to what he describes as low participation figures in the community consultations as evidence of the Aboriginal Victoria-led process being flawed.

“Three hundred people going through a process that involved 10 forums locally and in some of those communities there’s something like 5,000-10,000 people, yet only 15 or 30 turn up. I think that substantiates the allegations about how poor the process has been,” he said. Mr Murray and Ms Thorpe argue that the treaty process needs to be less Aboriginal organisation-based and more clan-based.

“The Minister in February had three motions put to her after the first state-wide meeting,” Mr Thorpe said. “One was we reject constitutional recognition. Two was to go down the treaty path. Three was to establish an Elders council.

“She has still failed to come good with that last recommendation. We need our clans to be empowered through this process and they need to be in a position to self-determine if they want a treaty or not.”

Responding to the criticisms, executive director of government peak body Aboriginal Victoria Jason Mifsud said: “As always there’s varying views about small parts of the process. And we’ve listened to some of those and acknowledged the fault … and made a commitment to improve in those areas during the next chapter.

“There’s been a record amount of treaty consultations, a record number of people engaged. Constantly through this process we’ve accepted the feedback in order to be able to reach into more lounge-rooms and open up the dialogue to more people. One of the real highlights for us is the community to be actively engaged in advising us how the process might look.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Another life at risk on Nauru

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