Small steps towards justice

10 Jun 2018

There’s still a long way to go. To date, Victoria is the only state to formally introduce a Bill that details a process towards a treaty.

Nigel Scullion

The South Australian Government this week scrapped the idea of a treaty with its Aboriginal communities.

The Federal Government continues to ignore and misrepresent the Uluru Statement gifted in good faith by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.

The Northern Territory Government this week have floated the idea of a treaty for their constituents.

And the rest of the country is watching. Watching what’s happening in Victoria.

There’s a great deal happening.

This week the Legislative Assembly (Victoria’s Lower House) passed the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018.

The purposes of this Act are—

a) To advance the process of treaty making between Aboriginal Victorians and the State; and

b) To provide for a mechanism for the State to recognise the Aboriginal Representative Body as the sole representative of Aboriginal Victorians for the purpose of establishing elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations; and

c) To enshrine the guiding principles for the treaty process; and

d) To require the Aboriginal Representative Body and the State to work together to establish elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations.

In short, the Bill aims to establish a framework and mechanism to establish a treaty through a committed working partnership between Aboriginal Representative body and the State.

There are two main challenges in the development of this treaty.

The first and overriding challenge is to establish a framework for treaty negotiations that strikes a balance between a utopian consultative arrangement, while dealing with the devastating impacts of invasion.

There are 38 traditional owner groups in Victoria, which consists of approximately 300 clan groups. Many of these clan groups have been wiped out, they will remain voiceless. The greatest challenge is ensure they are still heard.

Many other clans still exist, but not in any formal manner. Then there are the clans that exist and are organising themselves to become a formal part of the treaty process, an example of this the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation, which is actively recruiting members and organising family meetings to inform their mob.

To date approximately 7,000 people have been consulted though a series of community gatherings, roadshows and dinners. It’s a good start, but given that, according to the last census (usually an undercount), there are close to 48,000 Aboriginal people living in Victoria. There is still a great deal to do.

Ensuring more people are consulted is a point the Treaty Advancement Commissioner, Jill Gallagher, a Gunditjmara woman from western Victoria, understands all too well and believe me, she’s the right person for the job.

Another major voice in the Parliament itself is Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe, (another relative), a Green’s MP and the first elected Aboriginal person in Victoria’s history.

Lidia is a strong advocate for clans based treaties stating, “without the sovereign clans’ involvement, without their full, prior and informed consent every step of the way in this process, it will ultimately fail. It will lead to a token process and will change nothing.”

I see the tension between a pragmatic and idealistic approach as healthy. There should be robust discussion. No one person or entity owns this process. It’s what many of us have been calling for, but no one has ever pretended it would be a bed of roses.

One hindrance to address is to ensure there’s a diversity in the voices heard. That more than a handful of regulars are heard from, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Indeed that the same voices are speaking out and being heard, is already happening, putting many in the Aboriginal community off the process. So we can do with less grandstanding and more listening. This includes middle managers in the public service going around talking about the process and their role in it, as though they’re addressing the hordes from the top of the mount in a biblical epic… I digress.

The other major challenge is one of ownership. Educating the general public that the treaty will be a document, which every Victorian owns. It is not a list of demands or a shopping list. It will be a ratified agreement between parties, traditional owners and the people of Victoria, through the Parliament of Victoria.

To this extent, the Victorian Government has launched the Deadly Questions campaign. This is a cute start, but there’s much more that will need to be done to combat the torrent of drivel coming from the Bolts of the world, who have already labelled the development of a treaty, as imposing a form of apartheid on the people of Victoria. *eye roll*. We’ll wave you goodbye Andrew, as we continue down the road to restorative justice.

There’s still a long way to go. To date, Victoria is the only state to formally introduce a Bill that details a process towards a treaty.

We owe it to those, who in recent memory tirelessly fought for the rights of our people, but who are no longer with us. We owe it to those, who fought and/or were murdered in the western districts by squatters as they invaded traditional lands.

We owe it to those, who had terror inflicted upon them in Gippsland, such as the 150 men, women and children shot and thrown into Warrigal Creek. Those who survived the initial onslaught were shot, as they raised their heads for air.

We owe it to the warriors, who fought the invaders at Benalla that lead to years of reprisals.

These are but a few examples of the genocide committed on the original inhabitants of what is now known as Victoria.

As one Captain Charles Hutton, one of the original squatters on the Campaspe Plains told a ‘Chief Protector’ in 1840.

 ‘It was never intended that a few miserable savages were to have this fine country…the only way to govern the blacks was by fear…no good would be done with them until they are served as the Murray blacks are, one half destroyed.’

Well guess what Captain, we’re still here despite your worst. Justice moves slowly, but it is coming.

We are driving it and despite all the challenges, we will get it right.

Together, we will right the wrong.

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