Justice for First Nations people means Truth, Treaty, and Voice


In a year when the Black Lives Matter movement grew globally and at home with a call to dismantle systemic oppression and racism, it is time to listen to the call of grassroots activists and people on the frontlines of these systems of oppression.

By Lidia Thorpe and Adam Bandt

In a year when the Black Lives Matter movement grew globally and at home with a call to dismantle systemic oppression and racism, it is time to listen to the call of grassroots activists and people on the frontlines of these systems of oppression.

The Greens affirmed our deep commitment to First Nations justice at our party’s National Conference, where our membership’s First Nations Network presented a renewed policy that was endorsed by our party.

As parliamentary representatives of our party, we are proud of our party’s grassroots democratic processes that have led to this policy outcome, and we have renewed resolve to pursue the goals of our First Nations Network in the parliament and in the community.

The Greens First Nations Network policy has been discussed, workshopped and reviewed by members in a thorough member-led process, listening to the voices of grassroots activists and elders.

Our policy is based on the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, and it sets out core priorities of Truth, Treaty, and Voice, as well as specific measures and issues that must be pursued in this country if we are to see justice for our First Peoples.

There has also been renewed public discussion about the Uluru Statement from the Heart in recent weeks, including commentary on the Greens position. As is often the case with commentary about others’ views, it does not always accurately reflect the reality or the nuance of the position being brought forward by First Nations people within our party.

The Australian Greens support the Statement from the Heart. We have always supported Truth, Treaty, and Voice and our newly adopted policy continues to back these three elements just as we always have. Our view is that the timing and sequence of these actions matter.

Aboriginal people in this country have suffered countless injustices, but all those injustices start from one single event. And that event was the invasion of this country.

Until that first injustice is resolved, none of the other injustices can be properly addressed. Resolving this means negotiating and enacting a Treaty or Treaties in this country, sovereign to sovereign.

As such, our policy affirms that Treaty and truth-telling are foundational processes to make sure any changes in the constitution are meaningful and not just tokenistic. A ‘Treaty first’ approach is essential to ensure that sovereignty is recognised.

Once you have a Treaty, you have a platform to bring peace to this country, and it will make it easier to meaningfully resolve issues like constitutional recognition and a voice to parliament. Reforms on crucial areas like raising the age of criminal responsibility and tackling deaths in custody must also proceed urgently, but unless there is also a Treaty and the truthful recognition of First Nations’ sovereignty and violent dispossession, there will be no real resolution of the underlying problems. 

Australia is the only Commonwealth country without a Treaty with its First People. If we write it together, it can be the means to tell the story of who we want to be as a country, creating a national identity that celebrates what unites us, protects the rights of First Nations people and acknowledges the injustices, both past and present. We cannot change the past, but we can build a better future and that starts with bringing people together. Treaty is about bringing justice and peace.

We understand some within the First Nations community will be pushing for ‘Voice’ to come first, and we’re not going to stand in the way of any genuine reform, but we also see the Morrison Government watering down the idea of voice, saying it will only be voice to government, not to Parliament. And we don’t think it likely that any meaningful constitutional recognition proposition will be put to a referendum under this government. We’re not going to let Treaty negotiations be put on hold by Scott Morrison’s delaying tactics – Treaty discussions need to commence urgently.

If constitutional recognition proceeds without Treaty discussions being advanced, it in fact makes recognition less likely to succeed. We know how difficult it is to get constitutional reform in this country. Any reform process needs to have grassroots support if it’s going to stick. Having constitutional recognition discussed as part of the grassroots treaty discussion process would make it more likely to succeed.

There are different views in the First Nations community about how to achieve justice in this country, and we respect those different views. Within the Australian Greens, our First Nations Network and our First Nations spokesperson – also Victoria’s only First Nations Senator – strongly believe that moves towards Treaty must come first. That’s the position we’ll strongly advance, especially as Scott Morrison tries to delay the recognition process.

Lidia Thorpe is Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman, Senator for Victoria, and Greens First Nations spokesperson. Adam Bandt is the Leader of the Australian Greens and Melbourne for Melbourne.

Hero image: Gillianne Tedder.