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Next step in Treaty taken as funding guidelines for the Self-Determination fund announced

Dechlan Brennan -

Another step on the path to Treaty in Victoria was taken this week with the release of funding guidelines for the Self-Determination fund.

The fund, which is designed to help Traditional Owners prepare for Treaty, was one of several structural Treaty mechanisms agreed on during the first term of the Assembly.

Whilst a statewide Treaty - the focus of the recent Assembly elections - will cover 'big picture' reforms, which the Indigenous body argues will help deliver "better outcomes across areas such as education, health and justice," the Assembly also aims to empower Traditional Owner groups in the negotiation of Treaties that "reflect aspirations and priorities specific to their areas."

The fund is designed to both enable those Traditional Owners groups to enter into negotiations with the State government on equal footing, as well as supporting them to help build prosperity on Country in the long-term.

Assembly Co-Chair and Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, Ngarra Murray, said the guidelines would outline how the Fund would be able to support Traditional Owner groups through the first two of five phases of Treaty-making.

"This is a shared resource for all Traditional Owners who want to get serious about Treaty-making," she said.

"It doesn't matter if a group doesn't have existing recognition status under the government's legislation, we want mob to be able to organise themselves to prepare for treaties and form their delegations."

The Assembly has summarised the first two phases of Treaty-making. The first will be the forming of Treaty aspirations, whilst the second is labelled Pre-Treaty Preparation.

Phases three, four and five see the entering and conducting of the negotiations, as well as the formal establishing of Treaties.

The first phase sees the fund make up to $200,000 available to Traditional Owner groups, which will provide support and enable the group to come together and establish aspirations around their individual Treaties.

The Assembly says the fund will take an "inclusive and flexible approach to the definition of Traditional Owner Group" which will be guided by the Treaty Negotiation Framework definition.

Ms Murray said that whilst some areas take a lengthy amount of time and effort, "the incentive to work collaboratively and inclusively is here".

"So, our message to Traditional Owners is have a look at the guidelines and start thinking ahead," she said.

"Some groups might look at using the funds to employ a Treaty Manager or Organiser to have the yarns with their Community and start developing the cultural governance structures and decision-making processes."

The Assembly has said further funding will be available for each Traditional Owner group to work towards meeting the Minimum Standards and forming a delegation for negotiations.

The Minimum Standards concern land and waters, community, leadership, and inclusivity. A Traditional Owner Group with existing status that is defined in the Treaty Negotiations Framework will automatically meet these standards, however groups without the existing status will need to satisfy them.

Chair of the Assembly's Self-Determination Fund Committee and Gunaikurnai man, Troy McDonald, said phase two funding has the potential to cover a range of areas.

This could include Traditional Owner groups establishing leadership groups to develop their Treaty priorities, undertaking cultural mapping, running governance training and engaging with experts.

"For Treaty to improve our peoples' lives and create a better future, Traditional Owner groups must be able to fully participate and invest their time in the Treaty process," Mr McDonald said.

"This funding will help cover the practical needs for the vital preparation work, but also just help provide the time and space for communities to think about and plan for what they want Treaty to deliver."

Whilst the Assembly owns and created the fund, it is administered by five independent experts.

Nadina Brockhurst, Chris Croker, Rohan Henry, Jason Mifsud and Lisa Briggs are all First Nations people with extensive financial, community and governance experience.

The Fund plans to open applications for funding for the first two phases of Treaty-making by the end of the year. Applications will be open for 2 years or until the funding allocation is exhausted.

More information can be found online.

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