Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018
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Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018

December 5, 2019

I rise to make a contribution to the Advancing
the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018. I am delighted to have this opportunity,
and I come to this debate firstly by saying that we acknowledge the traditional owners
of the land on which we are meeting and we pay our respects to elders past and present. In standing here today, I just wanted to reflect
on what an extraordinary, moving introduction of this bill we had, when Aboriginal elders
came into this chamber and spoke to the chamber about the importance of this bill and indeed
a pathway towards treaty. This was I think a very moving moment for the Parliament and,
I know, a moving moment for the Aboriginal community as well. I just also wanted to reflect
on the fact that of course previous to that the very first time Aboriginal people had
come to stand on the floor of this chamber and to speak in their language was of course
the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017, which I had the honour
of putting together along with other colleagues. Only last week we had a meeting and a launch
of a 50-year vision for the Yarra River with of course the Wurundjeri people, who are at
the centre and at the heart of that great bill, the Yarra protection bill. It was a wonderful morning. Throughout the
smoking ceremony and the conversations that occurred there it was clear just how important
this bill was and continues to be in the life of the Wurundjeri people who so respect the
importance of the Yarra River to their cultural and spiritual life. As a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs,
I want to absolutely pay my respects to the current Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who
by any measure has pushed the cause of reconciliation for our Aboriginal community in Victoria further
than anybody has. Her work on this groundbreaking treaty legislation is an enormous credit to
her. Frankly I stand in awe of the work that she has done in this space. I know she has
put an enormous effort into this personally, and I again want to publicly acknowledge that
work today on behalf of the Andrews government. I now want to talk about some of the key aspects
of this bill. Firstly, it is to advance the treaty process with Aboriginal Victorians
in a manner that embeds self-determination. If I learned anything at all as the Minister
for Aboriginal Affairs, I understood that there were two key elements to any association
that you have with Aboriginal people. The first is the critical association of Aboriginal
people to their land. That is absolutely fundamental. It is the bedrock on which this treaty negotiation
will stand. The second is the respect for and the centrality of self-determination.
These are the two key principles that must guide a respectful relationship between this
Parliament, this government and the Aboriginal community more generally. I understand that,
and self-determination is absolutely embedded in the bill itself. The second aspect is to enshrine in the bill
a relationship between the Aboriginal Representative Body and the state as equal partners by requiring
them to work together to establish elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations.
The third aspect is to enshrine in the bill guiding principles for the treaty process
that the Aboriginal Representative Body, the state and participants in future negotiations
must act in accord with. The final aspect is to meet public commitments to legislate
the Victorian government’s commitment to a treaty process. The bill enshrines the following principles
for the treaty process, and these are very important. They will obviously govern the
relationship between the Aboriginal Representative Body and the state, and will apply to future
participants in the treaty process. They include self-determination and empowerment, fairness
and equity, partnership and good faith, mutual benefit and sustainability, and transparency
and accountability. I cannot think of a better person to lead this process, apart from the
minister herself, than that great Victorian, Jill Gallagher, who of course is the Victorian
treaty advancement commissioner — a person of eminence and a person of huge respect within
the Aboriginal community — and I absolutely acknowledge the great work that she has done. We know that leading up to this point the
treaty process has been — and I would absolutely agree with the minister in her conviction
that it has been — the most extensive and inclusive process of its kind to harness the
voices of Aboriginal Victorians. Consultation has been undertaken in the Victorian Aboriginal
community for more than two years. The process has engaged over 7000 Aboriginal Victorians,
who strongly supported the push for treaty in this state. Indeed Aboriginal Victorians
rejected constitutional recognition and instead called for a treaty at a statewide forum in,
I believe, February 2016. That statewide forum was the first of its kind in more than 20
years, so it was a symbolic and important conversation. In a historic move for this
country our government submitted the first piece of treaty legislation, as I indicated,
with that very moving ceremony in March. It is to the great detriment of our state
and of our country that Australia is the only commonwealth country not to have a treaty
with the First Nations people. This bill commits the government to negotiate a treaty with
its Aboriginal people. Obviously if the bill is passed — and we sincerely hope the bill
will be passed — the government will progress treaty with Aboriginal Victorians. In the brief couple of minutes I have left,
I want to say that I have listened very carefully to the contribution by the member for Northcote
and to the number of issues that she has raised, particularly in relation to the representative
structure and the important role of clans and so forth. We will be taking this bill
into a consideration-in-detail process tomorrow afternoon when there will be an extensive
opportunity to examine the bill in far more detail. I think that speaks to the commitment
that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has to seek to enter into a meaningful negotiation
and to listen carefully to the views of the member for Northcote and to see if there is
a capacity to reach an accommodation around some of the fundamental concerns that the
member for Northcote and, as I understand it, the Greens more collectively have. We
will enter that conversation tomorrow through the consideration-in-detail process, and I
will be very pleased to sit with the minister to provide her with any support that she needs
to see if we can reach across and try to achieve at least some level of accommodation with
the Greens political party, because we believe that this bill is so fundamental. We do not
want to be in a position where we are in a severe conflict around this. There was clearly an opportunity through the
Uluru Statement from the Heart for the federal government to show leadership in this space.
This was an extraordinary opportunity only a year ago where Aboriginal people from across
the country came together really seeking leadership from the federal government and having them
saying, ‘We hear your voice. We hear what you need in terms of having your voice articulated
at a federal level’. Sadly the federal government stepped away from that. The Andrews government
will not step away from this. We will negotiate in good faith with the Greens political party.
We will negotiate with the opposition. This is too important an initiative to let go.
I commend the bill to the house.

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