• Jill Gallagher, AO, Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner is given a standing ovation after addressing parliament in Melbourne on March 28, 2018 (AAP)Source: AAP
Labor's landslide victory in Victoria over the weekend means the state's treaty process remains on track, despite Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins announcing on Monday morning that she will step down from cabinet.
Rachael Hocking

26 Nov 2018 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 26 Nov 2018 - 3:11 PM

It's business as usual for  Victoria's Treaty Advancement Commissioner, Jill Gallagher, following an emphatic win for the Andrews Labor government on the weekend.

Victoria's Labor government have invested more than $20 million over the next four years towards establishing the state's first treaty or treaties. 

"I think it’s great that we’ve got a government committed to treaty," Ms Gallagher said.  "Now treaties can become a reality. It’s very exciting."

Marcus Stewart from the Federation for Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations reiterated the Commissioner's enthusiasm. 

"We look forward to the establishment of the Aboriginal Representative Body and it's exciting to think that by the end of this term a Treaty framework may be in place," Mr Stewart said. 

The process was cemented in the country's first treaty laws earlier this year, but there were concerns the Bill would not be enough to commit a potential Liberal-National Coalition government led by Matthew Guy, who believed treaty was a matter for the federal government.

However, Ms Gallagher expressed her disappointment that Greens MP Lidia Thorpe, the state's first Aboriginal woman in parliament, won't be returning to the lower house. Ms Gallagher said eventual treaties could potentially see a push for affirmative action in Victoria's parliament, which would mean dedicated seats for Aboriginal people. 

"That was a surprise, my expectation was that she would keep her seat. The only Aboriginal person in Victorian Parliament: it is disappointing," she said.

Ms Gallagher also praised the work of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins, who today announced she will step down from her position in cabinet to focus on family.

"I think Natalie Hutchins has been a very staunch advocate for Aboriginal people in Victoria. We will miss her, she has provided some great leadership in the Treaty space," she said. 

Statewide gathering to discuss treaty representative model
The proposed model for the treaty representative body will be discussed at next week's gathering, but there's already disagreement over its design.

The Treaty Advancement Commission has been tasked with designing a model for a representative body which will negotiate the framework for eventual treaties.

A proposal for the Body was released to the public in September: it included 17 elected seats, and 11 seats reserved for formally recognised Traditional Owner groups. Following a month of feedback, the Commission is now in the final stages of deciding on its design.

"We looked at what we can incorporate, and what we can’t. We will release a report early next year with the body design, and hopefully by mid next year we will have the Rep Body up and running," said Ms Gallagher.

However, not everyone sees Labor's victory as a win for treaty in the state. Outgoing Greens MP, Ms Thorpe has been a vocal critic of the treaty process since its inception and says her concerns remain.

"The legislation has passed, I will still be a very vocal voice," she told NITV News.

"I’ve already been speaking with the Victorian Land Justice Group, so I’ll be working back with them to ensure our 38 nations are represented and that it’s not just a tokenistic, bureaucratic process that the government takes." 

Last month, community members led a protest on the banks of the Yarra River calling for the inclusion of all of the state's 38 clan groups in the treaty process. 

An election for the Representative Body is expected to take place before the middle of next year, with Aboriginal people living in Victoria and Traditional Owners over the age of 16 able to participate in the polls.