• The Aboriginal flag flies above the Victorian Parliament in Melbourne. (AAP/Tracey Nearmy)
With treaty talks well under way in Victoria and new roads being made in South Australia, how is the journey towards Australia's first treaty faring?
By
Rachael Hocking

Source:
NITV News
17 Apr 2017 - 3:29 PM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2017 - 3:29 PM

Less than a year ago, renowned artist Richard Frankland led a crowd of hundreds in a powerful chant of 'Treaty'.

He was responding to protestors at the first Victorian Treaty Forum, who were dissatisfied with the way the process was running. It was early into the historic talks, and already some labeled it bureaucratic and not grassroots. 

Just three months earlier, the Victorian community had made history. A gathering of 500 leaders from across the state unanimously opposed Constitutional recognition at the first major consultation with Aboriginal people in decades. 

Instead, they called for treaty.

Fast-forward 13 months and a lot has happened. An Interim Working Group was established, two treaty forums attracting hundreds of people, and countless consultations across the state have been held. 

But for some, the same concerns raised at the first forum have persisted. 

"I don't think it's been going very well at all," Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman, told NITV. 

Lidia was on the Interim Working Group, but left last October when she felt her cultural integrity was being compromised.

She says while there are good intentions, the process hasn't come from the grassroots, and has been rushed.

"Those consultations haven't been well attended, they haven't been informed, people in community at the grassroots level don't have a full understanding of what treaty means to them," she said. 

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But Janine Coombs, who sits on the Working Group, disagrees. 

"It's a collective voice. At the end of the day, if you don' t listen and hear what people have to say, this is never going to work. So you have to come together as a collective and ensure every voice is heard," she said.

She says the Working Group has been under pressure to meet deadlines, but has "worked really hard" to ensure every community member knows about the upcoming forum on April 28, "and has had the opportunity to have a voice".

The April Forum will be the third since treaty talks commenced, and it poses another significant deadline. The community will need to decide on a representative structure: the body which will negotiate with the government going forward.

Lidia Thorpe has very clear ideas about what that should look like. 

She wants to see a clan-based treaty commission, which builds on the tenants of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

"To have a true treaty process, every clan that remains today in this state must have free, informed prior consent," she said.

"That's the only way we can go forward with a treaty in Victoria," she said. 

Janine Coombs stresses that the representative structure needs to be legislated to avoid any setbacks a new government could introduce. A tentative deadline for that legislative process of June-July, 2017, was set at the Treaty Forum last December. 

Despite the debate over the treaty consultation process, there's already clear expectations about what a treaty might deliver.

"For our people to be strengthened, and to have some hope going forward," Lidia said. 

"I think in the last 20 to 30 years, a lot of that fight and that struggle has gone out of our people because of that welfare and oppression we've been under.

"I think if we can start breaking through that, through economic empowerment and through reconnecting with our language and culture and country, I hope that we can be a thriving people again."

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For Janine, being a part of these talks is about the world she will leave behind. 

"It's not about me, and it's not about people my age. It's about future generations. It's about my nine and one-year-old grandsons, and ensuring that they have better than what I did, what their parents did," she said. 

"It's ensuring that there is something there that is going to enhance their life in the future and their children's. And seven generations from now."

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