Victoria’s treaty process is moving into a new phase, with Aboriginal Victorians soon to elect a First People’s Assembly to guide negotiations.
The assembly will be made up of 33 Victorian traditional owners.
It will work with the state government to decide the ground rules for negotiations, set up an independent umpire for the treaty process and create a self-determination fund to support traditional owners throughout the process.
Discussions will include who the parties to any treaty will be, whether there will be a single treaty or multiple treaties, and what legal form a treaty could take. What goes in the final agreement is open at this point, though it will likely at least include things like acknowledgements of past wrongdoing.
“Our people have been demanding treaty, and justice, for decades. All that hard work has led us to where we are today,” said Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher.
“Our community is about to take a big step forward on the journey to treaties. If we get it right, every traditional owner group should be able to negotiate their treaty for their country.”
The Treaty Advancement Commission, an independent body headed by Gallagher and established in January 2018, is leading the administration to run the elections to create the assembly.
In June 2018, the Victorian parliament passed the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act to officially commence the process. It is Australia’s first ever treaty law.
The legislation ensures “fairness between parties” in the negotiation process and states that Aboriginal Victorians “are empowered to freely determine their participation in the treaty process and, to this end, their form of representation in the treaty process”.
Enrolments for the vote, which runs from 8 to 21 July, opened on Friday. There will be options to vote online, in person or via post.
Enrolment is open for all traditional owners in Victoria and for Aboriginal people whose traditional country is outside of Victoria if they have lived in Victoria for three of the last five years. Those aged 16 and up are eligible to vote.
“Victoria’s inaugural First People’s Assembly will be a voice for Aboriginal Victorians and help guide us towards treaty,” said Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings.
“I encourage all those eligible to enrol early because it’s so important everyone gets a say in who is elected.”