2 February 2023

Indigenous treaty outlook might be rosier under Andrews government

Victoria is acting on facilitating treaty processes. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

30 November 2022

Victoria’s Aboriginal treaty-making processes may have a clearer pathway because of state government support and the 2022 Victorian election results, Indigenous leaders say.

Continuation of support for the development of Victoria’s treaty was among promises the Andrews Labor government made in its campaign, ahead of winning a third consecutive term in Saturday’s election.

Trawloolway man and School of Indigenous Studies lecturer at the University of Divinity the Reverend Dr Garry Deverell said the re-election of the Andrews government was good news for anyone who supported the treaty process.

Dr Deverell said there had been considerable concern within Victoria’s Aboriginal communities that if the Liberal National Coalition got in, there would be interruptions to the activity.

Dr Deverell said that a great deal had been achieved in the last two years and that the re-election of Victoria’s Labor party meant that all the good work that had been done so far, could continue with a degree of certainty.

He pointed to the Yoorrook Justice Commission and its truth-telling efforts, the work of the First Peoples’ Assembly, and the creation of a range of further mechanisms, including an independent authority body, to help facilitate how treaty negotiations took place.

“My expectation would be that the treaty negotiations would begin in 2023,” Dr Deverell said.

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In June the Victorian Coalition said it would support the advancement of the treaty process, but more recently former Liberal Bernie Finn opposed the passing of a Treaty Authority Bill, and Liberal MP Bev McArthur abstained from voting.

A conversation in which Liberal party candidate for Narre Warren North Timothy Dragan railed against a treaty with First Nations people, was also leaked last week.

The First Peoples’ Assembly said the election result wouldn’t change anything as the process had already been well underway.

Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder, and First Peoples’ Assembly co-chair Aunty Geraldine Atkinson said treaty was above party politics and that both sides had agreed to embarking on the treaty journey.

But Ms Atkinson said the Assembly had struck a deal with the Andrews government in recent months for a framework that would enable different traditional owner groups to enter negotiations about treaties in their areas.

The Assembly was also encouraged by polling data released by Reconciliation Australia in the last week that found that public support for treaty-making had grown across Australia.  

Dr Deverell said that while that was good news, it was also worrying that the data showed that increasing numbers of Aboriginal people had experienced racism in the last six months.

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He said that as with the gay marriage referendum held in 2017, a prospective referendum around a voice to Parliament would give racists and those who were anti-reconciliation a platform to air their views.

But Dr Deverell said that Christians who wanted to support Indigenous treaty-making as well as a voice to parliament had to write to local and federal Liberal and National politicians to remind them of that support.

He said for people who went to church, it could go further.

“I think that the important thing to do is to is to let the diocesan authorities know and let your local church authorities know that you support Aboriginal people, and you would like to see a greater voice for Aboriginal people in the church as well,” Dr Deverell said.

“It’s all very well for the church to say, we support an Indigenous voice in the public arena and in the civic arena. But if we’re not giving that opportunity to Aboriginal people within the church, then it’s a little bit hypocritical.”

The Victorian government committed to beginning to move towards treaty negotiations in 2016.

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