In June this year the Victorian Parliament passed Australia’s first ever treaty legislation, the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018. A treaty between the Victorian Government and the Aboriginal nations of Victoria will allow Aboriginal people to map out a pathway to self-determination and reconciliation, and help lead to a brighter future for Aboriginal Victorians.
Australia is the last remaining ex-British colony without a treaty with its First Nations people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been calling for treaties for decades, and the final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation recommended negotiation of treaties and agreements by all governments and parliaments way back in 2000.
Through the establishment of an Aboriginal representative body, the new Victorian law provides an opportunity for Victoria to recognise and celebrate the unique status, rights, cultures and histories of Aboriginal Victorians, and an opportunity for reconciliation and self-determination.
Self-determination is the ability of Aboriginal people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural development. Self-determination is an essential approach to overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, and is recognised as a human right in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a signatory.
Aboriginal Victorians have long called for self-determination as the way to improve health, wellbeing and safety outcomes. Research shows that when Indigenous nations make their own decisions about what development approaches to take, they consistently outperform external decision-makers on matters as diverse as governing, natural resource management, economic development, healthcare, and social service provision.
VCOSS congratulates Victoria on taking the lead to pass the first ever legislation stating a formal intent to negotiate a treaty or treaties with its Aboriginal people. VCOSS notes the Northern Territory has since signed an agreement to begin treaty talks with four land councils, and the NSW opposition has promised to begin treaty process if it wins government.
VCOSS supports Aboriginal Victorians in deciding the scope of a treaty, potentially including sovereignty, rights, government relationships, service delivery and decision-making.
The full potential of Aboriginal communities can best be realised through empowered Aboriginal communities making decisions about their own futures, helping determine all policy that affects them and delivering a range of programs and services to communities. In this way we can achieve a truly just and equitable Victoria, where Aboriginal people have the same opportunities and quality of life as other Victorians, and can contribute their skills and knowledge to strengthen the community.