"Treaty is not a house of cards to collapse the modern nation, it would erect, for the first time, a just foundation." Treaties, land rights and constitutional recognition topped the agenda at this year's Yarramundi Lecture.
By
Michelle Rimmer

Source:
NITV News
26 Oct 2016 - 9:58 AM  UPDATED 26 Oct 2016 - 9:58 AM

Calls for a Treaty with Indigenous Australians have been gaining momentum in recent months.

But is a Treaty the best way to ensure the rights of First Peoples? That was the big question at this year's Yarramundi Lecture.

The Yarramundi Lecture provides a forum for the discussion of issues of local and national importance. Held at Western Sydney University, a four-person panel explored the legal and social implications of current issues affecting Indigenous Australians.

In her opening speech, senior policy advisor and constitutional reform research fellow at Cape York Institute, Shireen Morris shared fears a Treaty alone wouldn't be honoured by governments in power.

"Treaties around the world, historically, have often been breached, because in that power relationship, the colonising government is far more powerful."

She told the panel constitutional recognition is necessary to ensure any Treaty is legally binding.

"The constitution is the only legal document that can compel the Commonwealth to do something. So, if you want to ensure that the commonwealth does something and sticks to its promises, the best way to do so is to put your most important promise into the constitution."

Not sold on the argument for constitutional recognition, Indigenous Author Alexis Wright says Indigenous Australians are not seeking constitutional change, but rather a Treaty that will have a real impact on the lives of Aboriginal peoples. 

Dr Wright argued that pushing for a Treaty needs to be a priority.

"If I was thinking, 'what do I want to see happen for us mob for the next 50 years?', I would say we need to be thinking big and thinking about treaty." 

Chairman of the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council Warren Mundine believes multiple treaties with the different Indigenous groups, rather than one all-encompassing Treaty, will be a step towards ensuring the rights of Indigenous Australians. 

Mr Mundine told the panel that while he does advocate for establishing treaties and constitutional recognition, he isn't convinced legislative change will alleviate the issues crippling communities.

"Treaties, constitutional changes, rules, laws and all these sorts of things are not the answer to lifting people out of socio and economic poverty."

Panel member and journalist Jeff McMullen believes a Treaty with Aboriginal peoples will benefit Australia as a nation. 

"If we want a just nation founded on solid foundations, Treaty is not a house of cards to collapse the modern nation, it would erect, for the first time, a just foundation.

Pointing to international examples, he concluded that Australia's political leadership is at the heart of ensuring the rights of our First Peoples - and the success of a Treaty.

"We need courage. Our national leadership needs a heart transplant. You only need to look at Canada's Justin Trudeau or the US President Barack Obama to see how they have, through their leadership, uplifted the hopes of those first people."

‘Malcolm Turnbull will talk treaty if he’s bold’: Chris Sarra challenges PM
Professor Chris Sarra, Indigenous education organisation Stronger Smarter Institute founder, renews calls for a treaty at the 2016 NAIDOC Awards.
Explainer: What is a treaty?
A look at what a treaty is and how the adoption of a treaty might change the political landscape for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.