Legislation that would make treaties with Aboriginal Victorians possible was introduced into State Parliament on Wednesday in a “monumental step towards righting wrongs”.
The bill would enable a representative body of 30 traditional owners to design a negotiations framework for establishing treaties with the state.
It would also commit funding, establish guiding principles, and require annual progress reports.
Treaty advancement commissioner and Gunditjmara woman Jill Gallagher said it had taken years of “hard work, blood, sweat and tears” to get to this point – with a lot more work ahead.
“There remains unfinished business. Aboriginal Australians have never ceded sovereignty and have long called for treaties,” Ms Gallagher told the Victorian lower house.
“I know we cannot change the past wrongs, but this bill is a monumental step towards righting the wrongs of the past. I would urge all members of this great house to get behind the bill and walk side by side with us on the path to treaties.
This legislation is a fundamental milestone, we are further along the road to treaty in Victoria than we have ever been before.”
Taungurung Elder Mick Harding, chair of the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group, addressed Parliament in his local language and sang for the legislation.
Australia is the only Commonwealth country without a treaty with its First Peoples.
Filled with pride to speak on the floor of Parliament with the Treaty Working Group on the introduction of the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill pic.twitter.com/hGqSajRl3n
— Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner (@JillGallagherAO) March 28, 2018
Ms Gallagher was appointed the commissioner to advance the treaty process in December last year in a landmark move.
More than 7000 Victorian Aboriginal community members were involved in getting the bill to Parliament, according to a government statement.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins said the bill showed the government was “really walking the walk” to tangibly improve the lives of Aboriginal Victorians.
But the Greens called the government’s approach into question.
Northcote MP Lidia Thorpe – a Gunnai Gunditjmara woman and the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman MP in Victoria – accused the government of fast-tracking the legislation to suit its political agenda.
She applauded the government’s commitment but said it needed to speak with clan representatives.
The Greens released 10 guiding principles to shape the treaty process on Wednesday, calling for clan elders to be centred in the approach.
“There were once over 300 clans in Victoria. However, due to colonisation, massacres, disease, dispassion of lands and families being torn apart, today only around 100 clans remain,” a guiding principle says.
“The surviving clans require justice for the dispossession of their land and injustices against their people.”
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy told reporters on Wednesday morning the Coalition had previously opposed a treaty.