Treaty: not a magic pill, but an attempt to right past wrongs   

Victoria's Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher

Victoria’s critical Aboriginal representative body will be made up of 17 members elected at a special state-wide poll and 11 who are chosen by their traditional owner groups, under a new proposal open for public comment.

The representative body is to play a key role in Victoria’s move towards treaties with its Aboriginal peoples by working with the state government to set up the architecture for the treaty process.

Victoria entered historic new ground when key legislation in the move towards treaty passed through the State Parliament in June. It was the first Australian legislation stating intent to negotiate treaty.

Under the new proposal for the representative body, Victoria’s 11 formally recognised traditional owner groups will be guaranteed a seat at the table. A further 17 representatives will be appointed after an election, likely to be held mid next year.

Aboriginal Victorians aged from 16 years will be eligible to vote in the election which will see the state divided into six Aboriginal voting regions which will loosely follow local government boundaries.

An elders’ group, whose form is yet to be determined, will sit at the core of the representative body for cultural strength and integrity.

Within the representative body, an executive, or inner circle, of seven to nine members led by a chair will implement the group’s decisions and set the agenda.

Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher, a Gunditjmara woman, said she was proud of the way plans were progressing.

“I’m proud that a lot of Aboriginal hands and voices and thinking have gone into this,” she told NIT this week.

“In an ideal world, over 200 years ago if we had the opportunity to negotiate treaty, it wouldn’t be as challenging or complex as it is today, but I’m excited, if we manage to get our best negotiations around that table so that we can have locally based treaties to be negotiated.”

Ms Gallagher said she had seen what treaty processes had done in places such as Vancouver in Canada and Arizona in the United States.

“What impressed me about Vancouver was that they are actually negotiating treaty. They have a whole mechanism established,” she said.

“They have a framework and that’s what this rep body is supposed to do. That’s the axle.”

“But what I saw there, I saw First Nations’ communities, not only in Vancouver but also in Arizona, got to negotiate their modern-day treaty.”

“They have moved from managing poverty to managing wealth.”

“The empowerment I saw in those communities, the self-determination, the pride in their culture.”

“When I got off at Vancouver airport I had no option but to walk through an exhibition of First Nations’ peoples of that country. From the first two minutes I landed, I got to learn a little bit about First Nations’ people.”

“We don’t have that here. Simple things, like seeing your cultures and landscapes. It is amazing to witness. Their empowerment, their status within their own country. They have both tiers of government behind them and I just see flourishing Indigenous communities.”

Ms Gallagher said treaties in Victoria would not solve all of the problems of Aboriginal communities, but they would right wrongs.

“They are not the magic pill,” she said. “It’s acknowledging the wrongs of the past and trying to right some of those wrongs.”

Original proposals for a representative body — floated before the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission was set up in January — allowed for 30 members, all of whom were to be elected.

Have your say on the new representative body proposal by calling the commission on 1800 TREATY or online at www.victreatyadvancement.org.au/feedback.

By Wendy Caccetta

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