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“We are invisible in our own country" : Jill Gallagher calls for more support for Indigenous culture during Treaty negotiations

Dechlan Brennan -

Indigenous health leader and long-time Treaty advocate Jill Gallagher has used her speech at the Statewide Treaty Gathering to promote for more Indigenous culture to be taught in schools, as well as an exemption of land tax and council rates for First Nations peoples.

The Gunditjmara woman and Chief Executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) used her keynote address on Wadawurrung Country on Friday to highlight her own beliefs regarding what should be some of the focuses in future treaties. 

“First and foremost, I want to see Traditional Owners fully resourced to bring back and maintain our languages and our cultures at a local level,” Ms Gallagher said.

“This will require us to establish Local Cultural learning places to ensure our mobs are culturally strong and to help educate the wider non-Aboriginal Community about who we are.”

She called for the visibility of culture, and “the true history of this country” to be taught in all schools. 

“We are invisible in our own country. That has to change," Ms Gallagher said.

"Other countries take pride in their ancient cultures.

"But we don’t learn about the ancient and contemporary cultures that live in this country."

She then argued: “Aboriginal People must be exempt from land tax, including stamp duty, and council rates.”

“Interest free loans must be provided to empower Aboriginal People to purchase homes," Ms Gallagher said. 

She also advocated for free tertiary education for all First Nations people. 

Ms Gallagher argued this in the context of the damages caused by colonisation, which includes land injustices. The Yoorrook Justice Hearings are currently looking into the history of dispossession of the land, sea and waters in Victoria. 

In response, the Herald Sun reported opposition spokesperson for Indigenous affairs Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, who has long criticised the idea of treaties, was highly critical of Ms Gallagher's comments. 

“These proposals are outlandish and insulting; these separatist policies have failed and were rejected by the Australian people at the referendum,” she said, as reported by the Herald Sun. 

“The 10 per cent turnout at the last First Peoples’ Assembly election should have ended this divisive treaty push from the Victorian government.”

It is understood the last First Peoples’ Assembly election, the democratically elected “voice” for Indigenous people in Victoria, saw more than 4,000 people vote and 7,000 people register out of a possible 35,000. 

Unlike other elections, the Assembly also allows all people over 16, as well as disenfranchised Indigenous people who have been incarcerated, to cast a vote. 

Appearing on 3AW on Wednesday morning, Ms Gallagher defended her position and emphasised this was “her aspirations". She reiterated it wasn’t the “official” position of the First Peoples’ Assembly, who will begin Treaty negotiations with the Victorian Government later this year. 

“In the early days of colonisation…our people were controlled by governments,” she said.

“It was illegal for Aboriginal people or families to own property.”

Ms Gallagher is not a member of the Assembly but has played a leading role in Indigenous affairs in Victoria, including as the former Treaty Advancement Commissioner and in her current role at VACCHO.

The statewide gathering saw a wide range of opinions and views expressed on the upcoming Treaty negotiations, with the idea of sovereignty a strong feature amongst both speakers and attendees over the three-day event. 

The Herald Sun reported on Tuesday Premier Jacinta Allan had not seen Ms Gallagher’s comments and wouldn't be drawn into discussions about what would feature in the upcoming negotiations. 

“This and a whole range of other matters will be put on the table for negotiation so I’m not going to engage in a separate negotiation through the media,” Ms Allan said. 

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