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Treaty talks emerge from ashes of referendum failure

Neve Brissenden -

Progress towards treaty between governments and Indigenous people is regaining momentum after being put on hold in some parts for the failed voice referendum.

Indigenous leaders are trying to pave a new way forward after the failed voice referendum, with treaty negotiations continuing across the country.

More than 35 years after Bob Hawke was handed the Barunga statement in Arnhem Land, Indigenous leaders are still waiting for a treaty.

Frustrated with a lack of federal progress, in 2018 then Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner took matters into his own hands.

He re-signed the Barunga statement, which requests a treaty between government and Indigenous people, and committed to treaty talks.

One territory government, two leaders and three Aboriginal affairs ministers later, progress has been slow.

A treaty commission, initially established to consult with communities, was disbanded in 2022 after handing down its final report.

Six months out from a Top End election, Labor has again promised to put treaty back on the table.

Deputy Chief Minister and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Chansey Paech said the failed voice to parliament referendum campaign slowed the process.

"We paused the treaty conversations during the referendum because I didn't want to fatigue people in remote communities and mix the messaging up," he told AAP.

"Unfortunately we didn't get the outcome we were hoping for, and we gave people some time to have sorry business around the outcome and time to heal."

Mr Paech said the time had come to revive the working groups.

Symposiums on treaty discussions will take place in April at Alice Springs and Darwin.

"Parliaments across this country must not see the referendum result and be frightened to do anything in the Aboriginal space," Mr Paech said.

But with urban voters preoccupied with rising crime rates and an opposition pledging to dismiss treaty if elected, it could be a long time before any formal agreement is signed.

At the last election, the Country Liberal Party won enough votes to hold onto several bush seats across the territory, leaving the door open for Labor to attempt to claw back votes on Indigenous issues in 2024.

"People want treaty," Mr Paech said.

"I'm really confident that remote Aboriginal Territorians are absolutely ready."

Across the nation, treaty negotiations are at varying stages in the states and territories.

Victoria's Liberal-National Party opposition has pulled support for treaty negotiations, citing concerns about cultural heritage.

Queensland's LNP has also withdrawn its treaty support, with the state Labor government insisting bipartisan support will be required before moving forward.

NSW Premier Chris Minns was set to begin a year-long consultation period in January but after the referendum result, he walked back his enthusiasm.

Tasmania has committed to progressing truth-telling and treaty, while Western Australia has no plans.

South Australia legislated a state-based voice to parliament in 2023, with another up and running in the ACT.

Neve Brissenden - AAP

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