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First Peoples' Assembly releases annual report

Dechlan Brennan -

The First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria released their annual report this week, highlighting the achievements and events from the last year.

The Assembly, the elected voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, held its second round of elections this year, with the representatives being charged with negotiating Treaty with the State government.

The election ushered in two new co-chairs; Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, Ngarra Murray, and Gunditjmara man Reuben Berg, who stated Treaty was, "once a dream for our Elders will be a reality for our children".

"Through Treaty, we're getting ready to put decision making powers back into the hands of First Peoples. It's the right thing to do and it's the smart thing to do. It will deliver better outcomes for our people now and into the future," they said.

The outgoing co-chairs, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, paid tribute to the Assembly in the report, saying they were "proud" of how far it had come since its first iteration.

"We have started to put power back in Aboriginal hands, because policies and programs for Aboriginal people are always going to deliver better results when Aboriginal people have the ability to make those policies and programs," they said.

The Treaty Election in May and June saw 74 candidates nominate for positions in the Assembly. The electoral role had more than tripled between elections, with over 7000 people able to have their say. The overall turnout saw a 200 per cent increase in votes.

The Assembly also allowed all incarcerated First Nations Victorian's to vote; a national first. With the over-representation of Indigenous people currently imprisoned, this allows the Assembly to "listen" to people the system has failed.

In total 23 visits were made to visit mob in prison, with the Assembly estimating between 10 to 15 per cent of those enrolled were incarcerated. By including everyone on the electoral roll, it ensured no one was left behind.

"These are people who often know too well the impacts of structural racism and their lived experience and knowledge is invaluable to the Treaty process. Treaty is about systemic reform — it's about mob having a voice and the freedom and power to make the decisions about what happens to our community, Country and culture," the report stated.

The year also saw the Yoorrook Justice Commission truth-telling hearings, a significant push from the first term of the Assembly.

The hearings saw government ministers - including then Premier Daniel Andrews - front or deliver statements to the commission.

The Victorian Government formally acknowledged the ongoing racism and injustice experienced by First Peoples, with Mr Andrews saying in a letter that it was a"source of great shame" that Indigenous Victorians continued to be over-represented in the justice and child-protection systems.

The chief commissioner of the Victorian Police, Shane Patton, also apologised for the treatment of First Nations people at the hands of police.

"I know Victoria Police has caused harm in the past and unfortunately continues to do so in the present," Mr Patton said.

In October, 2022, Treaty Negotiations Framework was laid out in a "landmark agreement between the Assembly and the Victorian Government."

The Framework is essentially the ground rules which will allow Traditional Owners of Country to negotiate Treaties with the government.

"We want the Framework to support Traditional Owners to decide how they want to approach negotiations," Aunty Geraldine Atkinson said at the time.

The Treaty Authority - an independent umpire outside the normal government bureaucracy - was also established to help oversee Treaty negotiations between First Nations people and the Government.

The year also saw Treaty Day Out, a music festival created by the Assembly to raise awareness and support for the journey towards Treaty in Victoria.

One was held in Bendigo (on Dja Dja Wurrung Country) in October 2022 and one in Naarm (Melbourne, on Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Country), both featuring an all First Nations line up.

The Naarm event saw over 4,400 tickets sold - free for mob enrolled in the assembly - which was designed to raise awareness for Treaty. 67 per cent of attendees said the day increased their su[port of Treaty, the Assembly said.

The Assembly encouraged all eligible voters to enrol in order to be a part of Treaty negotiations, which will take place in the new year.

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