Independent Aboriginal Authority to Oversee Treaty Negotiations with Victorian Government

Independent Aboriginal Authority to Oversee Treaty Negotiations with Victorian Government
Co-Chairs of the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, Marcus Stewart (L) and Aunty Geraldine Atkinson (R), and Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gabrielle Williams (C). (Image supplied to The Epoch Times by the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria)
Steve Milne

The First People’s Assembly of Victoria and the Victorian government have reached a historic agreement on the establishment of an independent authority to oversee Treaty negotiations and resolve disputes between Indigenous Victorians and the government.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams will introduce the Treaty Authority Bill in parliament on Tuesday, allowing the Treaty Authority—the first of its kind in Australia—to be created as an independent umpire.

“The introduction of the Treaty Authority Bill into Parliament is another vital step towards Treaty and a significant milestone in Victoria’s nation-leading efforts to achieve genuine self-determination for Aboriginal Victorians,” Williams said.

“Together with the First Peoples’Assembly, we are establishing an independent Treaty Authority with the ability to deliver an innovative approach to Treaty negotiations based on Aboriginal lore, law and cultural authority.”

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, established in 2019, is the democratic voice for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in Victoria.

As well as facilitating negotiations between the First Peoples’ Assembly and the government for a state-wide Treaty, the Treaty Authority will do the same for Traditional Owner groups and the government for individual Traditional Owner Treaties.

First Peoples’ Assembly Co-Chair Marcus Stewart of the Taungurung Nation said establishing the Treaty Authority is about making sure Treaty negotiations aren’t restricted by Western concepts.

“This is about stepping outside of the colonial system. We’ve said to government, if you’re serious about Treaty, you’ll do it our way, and to their credit, that’s what they’re doing,” he said.

“The Government is relinquishing some of its control and power, and together we are creating new institutions that will be guided by Aboriginal lore, law and cultural authority that has been practiced on these lands for countless generations,” he said.

The Treaty Authority will sit completely outside government bureaucracy and will not report to a government minister.  It will be comprised entirely of Aboriginal Victorians who are selected via a rigorous and transparent selection process, including a public call for nominations and an opportunity for community feedback.

Assembly Co-Chair and Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Geraldine Atkinson said the new agreement was a win for Aboriginal people and also showed how traditional knowledge and ways of working together could benefit modern Victoria.

“Western court systems are combative by default, whereas the Treaty Authority will respect our culture. The starting point will always be dialogue. I’m really excited to see our culture, lore and law being ingrained into the very building blocks of Treaty-making,” she said.

“Treaty is an opportunity to restore our ability to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country, and this agreement is a really big step towards that destination. This is a wonderful day.”

Steve is an Australian reporter based in Sydney covering sport, the arts, and politics. He is an experienced English teacher, qualified nutritionist, sports enthusiast, and amateur musician. Contact him at [email protected].
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