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Victorian government slam Coalition's abandoning of support for Treaty

Dechlan Brennan -

The Victorian government has reacted with dismay at the Coalition's abandonment of the Treaty process, saying they were blindsided by the decision and have let down Indigenous Victorians.

On Sunday, Nationals Leader and opposition Indigenous affairs spokesperson, Peter Walsh, said the Liberal and Nationals had reversed their previous bipartisan support for Treaty in Victoria, citing supposed secrecy concerns. This, despite previously telling Indigenous leaders the Coalition was committed to working with Aboriginal communities.

On Monday, the Victorian government responded to the about-face, arguing it was once again left to "Aboriginal communities to pick up the pieces."

"This announcement from John Pesutto's Liberals is a complete U-turn that was never discussed with the Government," a Victorian government spokesperson told National Indigenous Times.

"John Pesutto claims to be a moderate - but today shows he's really a wolf in moderate's clothes."

The government was quick to link the opposition's change of heart with their federal counterparts and asked Mr Pesutto to "explain what has really changed his mind, and how much it's because of Peter Dutton's creeping influence".

"Victorians deserve better than John Pesutto's Liberal Party, and we'll keep working to progress a fairer future - for all of us," the government spokesperson said.

Federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, was a strong opponent of the Voice to Parliament referendum, and categorically ruled out "prioritising treaties with billions of dollars going to lawyers instead of helping those communities in a practical way".

Some state Liberal-National Coalition or LNP parties have abandoned truth-telling and Treaty support, arguing the result of the referendum indicated a lack of support despite neither being mentioned on the referendum ballot paper.

Notably, Indigenous advocates for the No campaign - including independent senator Lidia Thorpe and former Liberal candidate Nyunggai Warren Mundine - both supported Treaties for Aboriginal people.

Despite the referendum loss, Victoria had the highest Yes vote in the country - 45 per cent - and is furthest advanced in the Treaty process nationwide.

In John Pesutto's electorate of Hawthorn, more than 60 per cent of the electorate voted Yes; for Liberal MP for Brighton James Newbury, who told Sky News Australia on Sunday people were "very concerned" about any financial reparations involved in Treaty, 56 per cent of his federal electorate vote Yes.

On Sunday evening, the First Peoples' Assembly was critical of the Liberal and Nationals decision, arguing it was "disappointing, but not surprising, news."

"What will the announcement mean? Not much really," the Assembly said in a statement.

"Of course, we would have liked to have kept Treaty above party politics and our door will remain open to politicians of all persuasions, but there is a clear path to Treaty ahead of us."

A source who wasn't permitted to speak on the record told National Indigenous Times was adamant the decision by the Opposition didn't change anything. Support in Parliament from crossbenchers will allow any legislation to pass, and both the framework and legislation to negotiate Treaty is already in place.

The Assembly, along with a significant number of Indigenous bodies, have consistently advocated for Indigenous voices to make decisions on behalf of fellow Indigenous people. The Assembly stated the experts on Aboriginal communities, cultures and land "are Aboriginal people".

"The more this fact is respected and embraced, the more our communities will thrive," they said.

This belief was replicated by the Government, who said they would continue to "back a better future for Aboriginal Victorians - because when we listen to Aboriginal people, it means better outcomes for Aboriginal communities and all Victorians".

Neither the state Liberal nor National Party have any Indigenous MPs in Parliament.

The Assembly, in wake of the decision by the Coalition on Sunday, also offered a hand in reconciliation - if it were ever to arise in the future.

"For those not yet willing to join in, the loss is yours, but if you change your mind, you know where to find us," they said.

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