Lidia Thorpe - Speech in Parliament in response to a Government motion to allow members of the Treaty Working Group to speak on the floor of the Chamber: The Victorian government should be congratulated for taking proactive steps toward a state-based treaty or treaties. Like so many in my community, I believe treaties are crucial for healing and peacemaking. I have campaigned for treaties since I was a kid, attending rallies with my nan, and they have been a focus and passion of my adult life. I was thrilled when the government announced it was holding a self-determination forum in 2016 to address this unfinished business. However, since then I and many, many others have been disappointed by the government’s approach.
The Greens would like to take this opportunity to express our concern with the process outlined in this motion and with the treaty framework development process more widely. This motion seeks to have members of the treaty working group enter the Parliament and speak as if they were traditional owners empowered by their clans or nations to speak on behalf of their communities in the Parliament on the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018. That is simply not the case.
These are Aboriginal people speaking as individuals or as representatives of organisations or on the working group. Some in this chamber might think that I am splitting hairs, but this is about culture. This is about our traditions and our true self-determination. All these things are critically important in a process as significant as framework legislation for negotiating a treaty with the sovereign peoples of this land, the clans.
This proposal is symptomatic of the fundamental problems in the government’s consultation and treaty development process thus far. The process of developing the treaty framework has failed to engage the clans and their elders, who are our law. Instead, the working group and the community assembly consist largely of individuals hand-picked and appointed by the government. I know this because I was part of the interim treaty working group as a representative of the Victorian Traditional Owner Land Justice Group.
The traditional owner land justice group is an unincorporated body that advocates for clans in Victoria. The original group of 10 representatives on the interim working group was negotiated with great concern for representation and balance. Then without consultation the minister appointed six more individuals. It was at that point that I and the traditional owner land justice group were forced to walk away from the process.
Later in the process, the government formed the so-called community assembly as another consultation body. In this case, it was 100 per cent hand-picked by the government from a group of self-nominated people. The government will say, ‘Oh, but we held forums in communities across the state and online so everyone had an opportunity to have their say’. Well, I can tell you that that is not the way to build relationships and build trust with the clans and elders after all of the injustice done. You have to go to them and make it work on their terms, not on the government’s terms.
Many elders were not aware of these forums or they were not able to attend as they did not have transport options to get there. Others, I believe, chose not to engage as they were not happy with the process. I believe the government has done all this not with the intention to be disrespectful but in an effort to streamline the process, to move through the steps in their time frame, in a way that works for them, with a bunch of people who understand how the government works and will work with government systems to get it done.
But isn’t this symptomatic of the whole problem? Even when it comes to negotiating a treaty with the first people of this land, it is still on white fella terms — when and how they want to get the process done, with the people appointed by them to help them achieve it. For hundreds of years we have had to endure white fellas imposing their culture on us, and with this process for developing the treaty framework legislation, the pattern continues. Our culture and traditions are brushed aside for the ease of the government. But you cannot rubber stamp a treaty process.
A treaty is supposed to be about meeting in the middle and about respect. In fact given the history of atrocities and genocide against the first peoples of this land, you would think that the government would actually want to be generous and do things on our terms for once. Article 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that: Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own Indigenous decision-making institutions. The process so far has completely failed to support self-determination by the clans, despite the government’s attempts to brand it that way. Further, it is in direct contradiction to the United Nations declaration, with most of the representatives chosen by government via groups of their creation.
If we are to be successful in creating a representative body that is truly representative of Aboriginal people and if we are to create a treaty-negotiating framework that is in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with free, prior and informed consent, then things have to change. I sincerely hope the government can take this criticism on board and improve the process moving forward.
The Greens strongly believe in developing treaties with the sovereign peoples of this land. This is the best way to ensure that the benefits of treaties truly address the injustices of colonisation and deliver for grassroots communities. We want to work cooperatively with the government and this Parliament to get it right. We must decolonise this of all things. We must deeply and truly respect the cultures and traditions of the clans.
For more information go to: treaty.org.au