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First Peoples' Assembly respond to claims of secrecy around Treaty

Dechlan Brennan -

The First Peoples' Assembly have been forced to respond to claims the Treaty process is operating in secret, after John Pesutto accused the Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan of not explaining the finer details of Treaty to Victorian taxpayers - despite largely not knowing them herself.

His comments come after the Liberal-National coalition last week withdrew their bipartisan support for Treaty, ostensibly around issues within Victoria's cultural heritage sphere - despite never having submitted their complaints to the State's Indigenous land management inquiry.

In response to secrecy claims, as well as the Treaty details Premier Allan supposedly had not shared, Assembly co-chair Ngarra Murray told National Indigenous Times: "It's very reasonable for the Premier to tell the public that she can't pre-empt what details will be in Treaty, because we haven't told her yet exactly what we want, we're only coming to that stage of the journey now".

"So far we've only discussed the broad framework and some key principles with the Government that we know we'll want to pursue when negotiations start," the Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman said.

"For example, we believe that First Peoples should be the decision makers when it comes to matters about First Peoples, so we'll want Treaty to start transferring decision-making powers from Government to our Traditional Owners of Country and communities."

Appearing on 3AW on Friday, the Opposition leader was asked about the Coalition's withdrawal from Treaty last week. In response to host Tom Elliot saying he personally had a "fundamental problem with one group of Victorian's having a Treaty with another group of Victorian's," Mr Pesutto responded: "As do most Victorian's".

"That is the overwhelming view of Victorians in my view," Mr Pesutto said.

He argued the Opposition had never supported the Treaty itself, rather the "process" of working towards one. Mr Pesutto previously told reporters he was against the "element of secrecy" he said surrounded the Treaty process.

"I've had some concerns for a while about whether, under any scenario, I could see the Coalition agreeing to a Treaty," he told Mr Elliot on Friday.

"And I'll tell you why – the Treaty, according to Jacinta Allan, is a process. [The Premier] has never explained to our listeners or the Victorian people what could be or what won't be in the Treaty."

John Pesutto has said he supports closing the gap, but doesn't back Treaty (Image:Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS)

Since the Treaty elections last year, the Assembly members have been holding a series of meetings - both formal and informal - around the state, canvassing the views of all Indigenous people and groups, which will then be presented during the initial negotiations.

"We've been careful not to rush things," Ms Murray said.

"We had to give Traditional Owners, all our communities, and the Aboriginal organisations, time to get their heads around the process and have the conversations about the priorities they want us to bring to the table when negotiations with the Government do begin."

Many of these conversations have been centred on better outcomes for Aboriginal people in the state. All sides of government have agreed the outcomes for Indigenous people in many metrics - both in Victoria and nationwide - need to be improved drastically. Mr Pesutto has said his party was committed to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Victorians.

"My colleagues and I are totally dedicated to closing the gap; real outcomes on education, on health, on in-home care," he said on Friday.

"We are focussed on Closing the Gap; Jacinta Allan is focussed on Treaty."

Indigenous groups - including in areas such as health and law - have long argued having Indigenous-led processes and systems will improve outcomes and have often stated Treaty is the best way to address this continuing disadvantage.

Nerita Waight, a Yorta Yorta and Narrandjeri woman and Assembly member previously told National Indigenous Times the best way to close the gap was through Treaty.

"Government policy after government policy has failed our communities in these domains and - as laid out by Yoorrook - Treaty is the answer if we want to close the gap," she said.

On Friday, Ms Murray echoed these sentiments.

"At the end of the day we want a Treaty that will deliver Aboriginal communities the power and tools to implement practical solutions at a local level, because that's what will deliver better outcomes for our people," she said.

"I'm looking forward to getting stuck into the details of how we achieve that when negotiations with the Government begin later this year."

A Victorian Government spokesperson responded to Mr Pesutto's comments, urging the Opposition leader to explain how much of an influence Peter Dutton had on his decision to abandon Treaty, which "leaves Aboriginal communities to pick up the pieces".

"Our government continues to back a better future for Aboriginal Victorians through Victoria's Treaty process - because when we listen to Aboriginal people, it means better outcomes for Aboriginal communities and all Victorians," the spokesperson told National Indigenous Times.

The Government has noted the Assembly is an effective way for Aboriginal Victorians to have a say during the reconciliation process. The Treaty negotiations - which still have the support of the crossbench as well as the government - are expected to begin this year.

National Indigenous Times contacted John Pesutto for comment.

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