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Treaty consultations - April-May 2016

Communities in Mildura, Horsham, Shepparton and Bairnsdale met to discuss what self-determination and treaty means for Aboriginal people. Find the outcomes from the consultations.

About the consultation sessions

We held an open forum on 3 February 2016 to hear directly from Aboriginal Victorians on self-determination. 

It was a powerful discussion and it was clear that the community had more to say. In response, we held 4 open forums in regional Victoria between April and May 2016 in Mildura, Horsham, Shepparton and Bairnsdale.

The views shared at these forums shaped the first Aboriginal Victoria Forum held 26-27 May 2016. 

An Aboriginal Treaty Interim Working Group was established to consult with Aboriginal Victorians and advise the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on the development of a treaty and the self-determination agenda.

The Working Group completed consultations during October and November and reported on themes at the next Aboriginal Victoria Forum on 13 December 2016.

Find the outcomes for each of the sessions.

Session outcomes

  • Issues

    Participants considered four questions: 

    1. What is needed to make self-determination successful?
    2. What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?
    3. What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and treaty?
    4. What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    Findings

    What is needed to make self-determination successful?

    • Participants described the move to self-determination as one involving a shift in power, choice, ownership and control being provided to Aboriginal communities through to making decisions in our own community.
    • There was a discussion about the need to determine our own identity and control our own image including through ensuring that there is more positive representation in the mainstream media.
    • It was also pointed out that in many ways Aboriginal communities are already self-determining and that this is a sign of the resilience of Aboriginal communities that the dominant culture should recognise.
    • Participants did note, however, that there are a number of challenges in achieving self-determination including lateral violence and disputes within the community.
    • There was a call for dispute resolution processes within the community.
    • Participants called for reform in the way resources are currently expended away from a narrow bureaucratic focus on particular issues towards a more holistic approach.
    • Attendees called for multiple treaties on different issues.

    What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?

    Participants identified the following as fundamental principles of a treaty: 

    Reconciliation:

    • Acknowledgement of past wrongs

    Rights:

    • Recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty
    • Economic development and social issues

    Representation:

    • Self-government
    • An Aboriginal assembly made of traditional owners and family groups

    Economic:

    • Return of Crown land
    • Tangible outcomes in the form of land or water

    What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and treaty?

    • Attendees affirmed that constitutional recognition and treaty discussions are separate issues.
    • Some attendees raised concerns that constitutional recognition may disempower Aboriginal community by covertly taking away rights.
    • Attendees also called for more culturally appropriate engagement and noted that the process should not be rushed to ensure free, prior and informed consent.

    What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    • A range of different suggestions were made including a Council of Elders based on the Native American model and a tiered body with local, regional and state-wide representation.
    • Participants recognised the complexity in selecting which groups should be represented (i.e. language group, clans, Traditional Owners) and identifying a role for First Nations people not from Victoria.
  • Issues

    Participants considered 4 questions: 

    1. What is needed to make self-determination successful?
    2. What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?
    3. What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and treaty?
    4. What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    Findings 

    What is needed to make self-determination successful?

    Participants felt that this was a tough question that couldn't be answered easily, as each community has different needs.

    Features of self-determination raised by participants include the following: 

    • No artificial timeframes to ensure that there is a free, prior and informed consent.
    • Predictable, flexible and long-term resources to allow communities to plan for their future.
    • Economic independence from which the community can leverage.
    • A means of uniting Aboriginal people. 
    • For all voices to be heard.
    • Regional representation and consultation.
    • Transparent communication.
    • To be clear on what Aboriginal people want to achieve. 
    • Recognition of Aboriginal people as sovereign and equal with government.
    • For self-determination to be family or clan-based.

    What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?

    Participants identified the following as fundamental principles of a Treaty.

    Rights:

    • It should be enduring, binding and enforceable.
    • It should recognise sovereignty.
    • Legislated and have bi-partisan support.
    • Grounded in Aboriginal knowledge and tradition.
    • Include individual treaties for different nations in Victoria.
    • Address the gaps in Native Title legislation.
    • Not be dictated by government.

    Economic:

    • Include a financial component that enables economic independence.

    Reconciliation:

    • Include a strong communication plan to ensure disenfranchised members of the community such as the homeless and unemployed are engaged.

    What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and Treaty?

    • For some people, treaty and constitutional recognition go hand in hand and you cannot have one without the other.
    • Participants also said that a Treaty should come before constitutional recognition.
    • Others expressed concern that a treaty could be dismantled if there was no constitutional recognition.

    What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    • There were a range of views on possible models including one based on local/regional Traditional Owner groups feeding into a state-wide body.
    • Participants called to learn from the example of what has and has not worked in New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America.
    • Aboriginal-specific seats in Parliament.
    • Participants acknowledged the need for the body to be adequately resourced (including a secretariat) and a robust process (including dispute resolution) in order to be effective.
  • Issues

    Participants considered four questions: 

    1. What is needed to make self-determination successful?
    2. What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?
    3. What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and treaty?
    4. What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    Findings 

    What is needed to make self-determination successful?

    • Participants highlighted the need for greater involvement by Aboriginal people particularly in funding policy.
    • Participants noted the need for more resources and, over the longer term, economic independence from government as much as possible.
    • Economic independence will require funding and resources to empower Aboriginal people and enable them to undertake economic activity to build and sustain wealth.
    • Participants also spoke about the challenges in identifying who should speak for the community and the tension between the need for everyone, including young people and those who are typically excluded, to have their say while respecting existing authority structures including Elders and Traditional Owner groups.
    • A number of participants noted the need for the Aboriginal community to mobilise and counter what they perceived as apathy within the community to the threat of assimilation and their culture.
    • Participants were of the view that policies attached to government funding do not align with the concept of self-determination – this needs to be fixed 

    What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?

    Participants identified the following as fundamental principles of a treaty: 

    Economic:

    • Compensation
    • The return of land and access to utilised land 

    Reconciliation:

    • Acknowledgement of past wrongs

    Rights:

    • Recognition of Aboriginal nations
    • Compulsory inclusion of Aboriginal history and culture in the school curriculum
    • economic independence  
    • Language, history and culture 
    • Indigenous police force and judiciary 
    • Simple not complex 
    • Enforceable concrete rights
    • Treaty for Traditional Owners

    Representation:

    • Self-government and sovereignty 
    • Accountability of Government and Elders 
    • Decision-making processes 
    • Autonomous self-governance
    • At least 50 per cent representation on Indigenous governance structures to reflect a more equal partnership with the government 

    What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and treaty? 

    • Participants commented they did not know much about constitutional recognition and were concerned about possible negative ramifications.
    • They were more comfortable with the idea of treaty recognising they are two separate things, although it was acknowledged both initiatives were trying to improve the current situation.
    • Participants understood that the debate was reflective of the state and federal relationship in saying recognition would fall into place following the treaty.

    What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    • The prevailing view would seem to be that any structure should be inclusive in representing Elders (Aboriginal Elders Council), youth, community, families, representatives from all Traditional Owner groups, and also the voice of people living on the country.
    • The importance of Aboriginal representation in the Victorian Parliament and in the Victorian public sector in addition to a commission-like body was also emphasised, with the view put forward that capacity-building and training need to start as soon as possible.
  • Issues

    Participants considered four questions: 

    1. What is needed to make self-determination successful?
    2. What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?
    3. What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and treaty?
    4. What should an Aboriginal representative structure look like? 

    Findings 

    What is needed to make self-determination successful?

    • Participants affirmed that the agreement-making process cannot be rushed as “this is the beginning of a yarn” noting the travel and cost involved in attending the self-determination forums.
    • The view was expressed that information being gathered through the self-determination forums belongs to Aboriginal people and should be protected accordingly.

    What are the fundamental principles for a treaty?

    Participants identified the following as fundamental principles of a treaty: 

    Reconciliation:

    • Acknowledgement of a historical legacy of colonisation 
    • Bipartisan support

    Rights:

    • Input into the education curriculum 
    • Right to make laws 
    • Enforcement of a treaty or treaties 
    • Training and capacity building 
    • Employment and non-discrimination rights 
    • Addressing racism 
    • Improving job access 
    • Control of health services 
    • Treaty being underpinned by legislation 
    • Power imbalance is addressed
    • Aboriginal people not “white fella” decide Treaty 

    What is the relationship between constitutional recognition and Teaty? 

    Some participants expressed concerns about the potential impact of a treaty on existing rights and entitlements (e.g. under Recognition and Settlement Agreements) saying they do not want to sign their rights away.

    Views were expressed about the Constitutional Recognise campaign, including that Aboriginal people should not be part of an “illegal” document, the Constitution is “racist” and “un-Australian”, and voting rights introduced in the 1960’s made no practical difference to their lives 

    Three recommendations were put forward: 

    1. That the meeting reject constitutional recognition.
    2. That funding and resources be provided to clans to undertake treaty meetings, talks and discussions.
    3. That the treaty process, in particular phase 2, incorporate clan cultural protocols and ethics, and be compatible with United Nations human right standards, and in relation to specific clans, require free, prior and informed consent.

Reviewed 01 October 2019

Aboriginal Victoria

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