‘‘Treaty yeah, treaty now’’ — the refrain from Yothu Yindi’s award winning song Treaty is still as relevant now as it was in 1991 when it was first released.
As Sophia Sambono from the National Film and Sound Archive writes, Treaty was ‘‘a protest song declaiming the failure of Australia’s political leaders to fulfil the promise of a treaty between black and white Australians’’.
While there is still no treaty in Australia on a national level, here in Victoria, Treaty is very much on the agenda and much has been happening.
In February 2016, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews committed the government to discussing treaty.
Forums and community consultations were organised across the state during 2016 and 2017.
The appointment of Gunditjmara woman, Jill Gallagher AO, as the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner was the next step.
The commissioner and the newly created Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission have been working with traditional owners, elders, Aboriginal organisations and young people to establish a democratically elected Aboriginal Representative Body.
On June 21, last year, the Victorian Parliament passed Australia’s first treaty bill, setting up a path for the government to one day negotiate and conclude agreements with Aboriginal people.
The Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018 allows for the creation of this representative body, to be elected by Aboriginal Victorians, the role of which will be to help design the treaty negotiation framework.
Consistent with the policy of self-determination, the Bill does not specify who treaty is with or what it will be about.
Rather it requires an independent Aboriginal Representative Body and the Victorian Government to work in partnership to facilitate future treaty negotiations.
The name decided upon for this independent organisation that will support Aboriginal communities to negotiate treaty is the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria.
‘‘Aboriginal Representative Body was a temporary name,’’ Ms Gallagher said.
‘‘The assembly will be powerful, independent and culturally strong.
‘‘It will bring our people together for a common cause.
‘‘We feel the name reflects this.’’
The process to set it up will include an election, mid-year, at which those in the Victorian Aboriginal community, aged 16 and over, will elect Victorian traditional owners to sit on the assembly.
The First Peoples Assembly of Victoria, to be set up this year, will be the voice of Aboriginal people in Victoria in the future treaty process.
It will be independent of government.
It will be made up of 33 traditional owners: 21 elected by Aboriginal people in Victoria and traditional owners living outside the state and 12 from formally recognised traditional owner groups.
It will not negotiate a treaty.
Instead, it will work with the state of Victoria to prepare for treaty negotiations.
This will include the establishment of:
●A Treaty Authority — an ‘‘independent umpire’’ in the negotiation process;
●A negotiation framework — this will set out ‘‘ground rules’’, for example, what is on and off the negotiating table, and who can negotiate; and
●A self-determination fund — this will support Aboriginal communities to be on an even playing field with government when treaties are being negotiated.
Elders will ensure the assembly is culturally accountable to the Victorian Aboriginal community.
‘‘Treaty requires government to sit down and engage with Aboriginal people as equals — not as a problem to be managed, or as stakeholders to be consulted once and then ignored,’’ Ms Gallagher said.
‘‘Aboriginal communities will be able to tell government what they need to build better lives for themselves and their children, and government will be able to respond.
‘‘There will be a process of give and take, as there is in any negotiation.
‘‘But it is precisely this sense of mutual obligation that is indispensable for real reconciliation.’’
Treaty’s lyrics continue:
‘‘This land was never bought and sold, the planting of the union jack, never changed our law at all, now two rivers run their course, separated for so long, I’m dreaming of a brighter day, when the waters will be one, Aboriginal people have never wavered in their call for treaty/ies as a recognition of their ancient sovereignty, what has changed is that non-Aboriginal people in this country have started to hear the call, and answer it.
‘‘Treaty yeah, treaty now, treaty yeah, treaty now...’’
To find out more about treaty in Victoria, visit victreatyadvancement.org.au
To find out more about the Uluru Statement, visit https://www.1voiceuluru.org/