The Victorian Government will begin talks to work out Australia’s first treaty with Indigenous people within weeks.
A meeting with First Nations representatives, convened by the State Government earlier this month, firmly rejected Constitutional recognition in favour of self-determination and a treaty.
The treaty would be a legal document over Aboriginal affairs and services and addressing past injustices.
It would be the first such agreement in Australia and follow similar arrangements with First Peoples in Canada, the US and New Zealand.
Victoria’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins told Lateline the Government was committed to making it happen.
“At the end of the day it’s pretty disappointing that we, in the year 2016, don’t have a treaty or a national arrangement with our First Peoples,” she said.
Ms Hutchins said Victoria will look at treaty examples in other Commonwealth countries.
“In fact, Canada have been doing it for a long time, New Zealand has successfully done it, so it’s time for Australia to step up,” she said.
Constitutional recognition ‘a distraction’
Dja Dja Warrung elder Gary Murray said the state must pursue the best outcome.
“It’s not difficult to scope a treaty given what’s happened in Canada and New Zealand and other places,” he said.
“I think we pick the best from that and bring it into the modern world.”
Mr Murray said the national debate around Constitutional recognition was just “a distraction”.
“You can park it in a treaty process. Of course we want to get rid of racist Constitutional issues and racist laws,” he said.
“So what we do is park it in a treaty process and there’s a chapter in a treaty just on that sort of aspect.
“It shouldn’t be the main game. The main game is sovereignty and reparations for all the injustice to a certain extent. I think we need to be ready for a long process.”
Controversial colonial-era agreement
Victoria had a so-called treaty in 1835 with Wurundjeri people, covering land from Geelong to Melbourne.
One of Melbourne’s founders, John Batman, presented deeds which claimed to have signed over the land in exchange for axes, flour and other European goods.
But the agreement was almost immediately overturned by New South Wales Governor Sir Richard Bourke, as NSW was the overseeing colonial government of the area.
Gunai elder Robbie Thorpe said Mr Batman really had no legal right to sign those deeds.
“The problem with Batman’s treaty was he had no authority. He wasn’t a sovereign, there wasn’t a sovereign to do the business,” he said.
Mr Thorpe said there were doubts as to whether the Wurundjeri people knew what they were signing or if they actually even signed the 1835 document at all.
“Some people say he was just a fraud, that he wrote the document himself. There’s just placement of the community’s signatures and that it was done on a fraudulent basis,” he said.
Elders like Bobby Nicholls from the Yorta Yorta nation hope the new treaty will be more enduring and inclusive.
“Is it going to be led by us or is it going to be a government-led thing and are they going to lead us into believing that? Yes they’re going to do the right thing for us?” He asked.
Discussions on a framework will begin next week.