• The Aboriginal flag atop the SA Parliament in Adelaide. (SBS News)
South Australia has taken the first steps towards a possible Treaty with its First Nations peoples, launching a State wide consultation process. The discussions are being facilitated by the State's Treaty Commissioner, Dr Roger Thomas, who was appointed by the SA Government in January.
By
Natalie Ahmat

Source:
The Point
17 Apr 2017 - 12:43 PM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2017 - 12:43 PM

Dr Roger Thomas has an incredible task ahead: he'll be meeting with as many Aboriginal people, groups and organisations as possible in the coming weeks, to canvas their views about a potential model for a Treaty.

Dr Thomas told NITV's The Point the first phase will be about having a robust conversation to flesh out “what the views and the aspirations of Aboriginal people in South Australia are in terms of a Treaty."

The first step will be to ascertain if people prefer a Treaty over other options, and what a treaty would entail.

"The obvious question is, do they want a Treaty? And what will come with that is, if you do want a Treaty, do you want it to be for all Aboriginal people of that state, or do you want individual treaties with individual nations or groups?," he explained.

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Dr Thomas said he was expecting to hear a diverse array of opinions from Indigenous South Australians about what a Treaty could involve, and that he was going into the consultation process open to all options.

"We are not going into this with any preconceived model, or ideas about what might be in a treaty. The government has not provided me with a model, or a preconceived position in terms of what that Treaty might be or what it might look like," he said.

After the first round of discussions is completed, Dr Thomas will draft an interim report based on the feedback he receives, which will be presented to State Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Kyam Maher mid-year.

He'll then embark on further consultations, to develop a draft framework for the government.

"So we've effectively got the next three or four months as the timeline to be able to get the best possible response and from there, it will be a matter of trying to get it to government for them to consider putting the next steps to it all," Dr Thomas said.

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While the South Australian government has previously indicated it hoped to finalise any process by the end of the 2017, Dr Thomas was cautious about speculating how soon a Treaty could be made.

"That's a little bit kind of ahead of where we are at, at the moment," he said.

"I don't want to make any kind of presumptions or guessing in terms of what this process, where it will get us, in terms of the next 2 to 3, five years."

But he agreed that the early response from the Indigenous community had been positive.

"There is a real desire to have the conversation, which Aboriginal people in South Australia have expressed already, when the Government announced that they wanted to commence the conversation," he said.

"I'm focusing on that part of it, rather than looking at any kind of aspiration or intention down the track"

A Kokatha and Mirning man, Dr Thomas was the inaugural Professor of Indigenous Engagement and Adjunct Professor of Education at the University of Adelaide and also the Dean of the Centre for Australian Indigenous Research and Studies, Wilto Yerlo.

He told NITV he was "most honoured" to be appointed to the Treaty Commissioners role - the first time such a role has been created in any Australian State or Territory - although Dr Thomas also acknowledged the work being done in Victoria, which began treaty consultations in early 2016.

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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.