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Queensland Human Rights Commissioner urges state leaders to forge ahead with Treaty process

Dechlan Brennan -

The Queensland Human Rights Commissioner (QHRC) has criticised the state's political leaders for withdrawing their commitment to treaty in the wake of the voice referendum's defeat last weekend.

Commissioner Scott McDougall said now was not the time for "rash decision making," but rather time for "reflection" and "deep listening to community".

"By now we should all also be aware of the deep grief and sense of isolation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities are feeling as a result (of the referendum)," he said.

"The referendum results will be dissected and discussed at length in the coming weeks and months, and until this happens, we cannot properly understand either the results themselves or their implication for the future of reconciliation and of treaty."

On Thursday, Liberal National Party leader David Crisafulli walked back on his commitment to treaty, saying he could no longer support it after "one of the most divisive debates in my life".

"When the LNP originally agreed to enabling legislation for the path to treaty we did so in good faith as a genuine effort to promote better outcomes for Indigenous Australians," Mr Crisafulli said in a statement.

"In the days since the referendum as I have travelled throughout the state it has become clear to me the path to treaty will only create further division."

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had vowed to forge ahead with treaty after the referendum defeat, which saw Queenslanders overwhelmingly reject Indigenous constitutional recognition and a Voice to Parliament.

However, on Thursday, she stated that treaty was "a long way off" and would require bipartisan support for effective reconciliation.

The latest Resolve polls show the LNP ahead, with the Palaszczuk government's support slipping. An election will be unlikely until the final quarter of 2024.

Mr McDougall said Queensland's leaders needed to "immediately stop walking back commitments".

"Racing to interpret the referendum results as an overall rejection of reconciliation and treaty is dangerous and short-sighted," he said in a statement.

"Such an approach risks throwing away decades of work toward reconciliation.

"Treaties are, by definition, agreements between parties. It seems nonsensical to suggest that the pursuit of an agreement could be described as divisive."

28.3 per cent of First Nations people live in Queensland; the second higher percentage of any jurisdiction in the country, making up just over four per cent of the population.

The state government has been highly criticised this year for their policies that have directly impacted Indigenous communities; legislating breaches of bail for juvenile offenders and forcing children to be housed in adult watch houses both resulted in an overriding of the state's Human Rights Act, much to the chagrin of Mr McDougall at the time.

First Nations children account up 62 per cent of Queensland's youth detention population, and 84 per cent of youth detainees kept in solitary confinement, despite First Nations people only making up 7.8 per cent of the Queensland youth population.

The truth-telling and treaty commitment was seen as a positive step in an often-fractured relationship between Indigenous communities in Queensland and state governments of both parties.

A lack of firm commitment to maintain this will only lead to further criticism that the state is not committed to closing the gap and listening to First Nations communities.

Mr McDougall said leadership required both listening, but also a willingness to lead constructively - with moral responsibility.

"Leadership means truth-telling about our past and about where we need to go in the future – something both leaders have previously said themselves was an important part of Queensland's path to treaty. It means bringing communities along with us when we tell those truths, and helping them to listen," he said.

"Treaty is an opportunity – not only for truth telling but to address past and ongoing injustices.

"In the wake of the weekend's results treaty is an opportunity Queensland must take, and it's one only the most cynical among us could see as divisive."


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