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Victorian Parliament to Debate First Aboriginal Treaty

Victorian parliament

Victorian parliament

Victoria is expected to pass the first legislation in Australia to pave the way for a treaty with Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Victorians are being told to “step up” and unite behind a bill paving the way for treaty negotiations amid concerns in-fighting could derail the process. As the Victorian Greens waiver on a critical bill over concerns it does not explicitly recognize the sovereignty of Aboriginal Victorians, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins has urged them to back the bill so negotiations can begin.

Ms Hutchins, Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher, indigenous playwright Richard Frankland and elder Mick Harding, held a press conference this morning as lower house MPs prepare to vote on a bill which will set up a Representative Body to negotiate the Treaty.

Mr Harding and Mr Frankland urged both Aboriginal Victorians and politicians to hold off making demands about the treaty until a representative body had been appointed, and called the bill an “opportunity” for Aboriginal Victorians to advance the process of reconciliation.

“This opportunity that we have in our hands, if its snatched away by any hard thinking politicians, history won’t judge them kindly, and it will look back on them irrespective of who those politicians are,” Mr Frankland said.

“They need to step up and they need to have courage and they need to have vision and we need to take this forward as the state of Victoria to challenge the nation.”

The press conference followed comments by Victorian Greens MP Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman and the member for Northcote, who said the party was likely to support the passage of the bill through the lower house, but would likely put forward amendments in the upper house.

Ms Thorpe has been among the most vocal critics of the bill, which she says needs to explicitly acknowledge the sovereignty of Aboriginal Victorians as well as clans living in the state. She has also been critical of the government’s attempts at consultation, arguing that some groups have been locked out of the process.

Ms Thorpe said Greens negotiations with the government so far had delivered “quite a few wins” including provisions for an elders’ council, and ensured that traditional owners are explicitly acknowledged in the legislation.

She also welcomed the government’s decision to hand out an extra $700,000 to encourage more indigenous communities to step forward and have their say on the treaty.

But she said negotiations had gotten off on the wrong foot, and the Greens would continue to fight for changes as the bill made its way into the upper house.

“It is disappointing that we’re still negotiating or still fighting for this government to acknowledge Aboriginal peoples’ sovereignty, to have a treaty any treaty, it is between two sovereigns and for the government not to acknowledge First Peoples’ sovereignty in Victoria is not a great start,” Ms Thorpe said.

“If we can’t get that through today, we’ll continue to fight for that in the upper house.”

Opposition leader Matthew Guy has stopped short of supporting the bill, arguing that any Treaty negotiations that don’t happen at a national level are bound to fail.