By Ben Wilson
The Victorian government’s proposed treaty with th state’s original inhabitants, marks an important move in the right direction. But it is flawed and this must be corrected.
One would have thought that the best way to ensure that it is done correctly, would have been through a process of ongoing consultation, carried out according to tradition. This means discussion with the elders. Instead, there has been an over reliance on functionaries.
This approach is paternalistic and comes up with a document that does not meet the needs. It is bound to meet resistance.
The current proposed legislation is titled Advancing the treaty process with Aboriginal Victorians bill 2018.
More attention should have been paid to last October’s Uluru Statement, even though the federal government rejected key elements, and effectively stopped the treaty process at the federal level.
Greens MP Lidia Thorpe who is a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman, who has found herself being a spokesperson for her people, has warned that she may oppose legislation leading to the treaty, when it is debated next Tuesday.
Victoria’s only Aboriginal MP could vote against legislation, intended to be the first step towards signing a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, if amendments recognising sovereignty are not adopted.
She says she is doing this, not to block legislation, but to point out that there is a choice between the flawed version and an alternative. To this end, she has come up with nine amendments.
One is a change to the preamble of the draft, so that it recognises that the sovereignty of the original inhabitants was never ceded and that the term “Aboriginal Victorians” is replaced with “sovereign clans.” These differences in the wording are important, because they represent two different interpretations of the nature of white settlement. Without the changes, there is denial that this was a process of colonisation and dispossession.
A treaty that fails to recognise this reality, does not take the form of an understanding between two peoples as equals, and is therefore not much of a treaty. It commits the government to working with a yet-to-be-established Aboriginal representative body, to be elected by and from Aboriginal people living in Victoria.
Another important amendment is that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be inserted as the guiding principle.
There is tension around the process of creating the body that will have the task of setting the framework, for negotiating the transformation of a draft into the final document, and administering an $8 million self-determination fund. The government has so far, opted for relying on the leaders of the traditional owner corporations. The alternative is that the process should be overseen by a council of elders, representing all the 38 language groups.
A new Clan Elders Council has been formed.
Participation of those who do not identify with a clan, such as the stolen generation, also needs to be worked out.
The government must be given credit for signalling that it is prepared to talk. Hopefully, the opportunity for a resolution will not be wasted, and Victoria can be the leading force towards a treaty worthy of the title.