Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher last week completed a series of visits to the state's prisons to talk with incarcerated Indigenous Victorians about their views on the Treaty process.
Approximately 20 prisoners participated in the final consultation session at Dhurringile Prison, a minimum security facility in the state's north, to have their questions answered by the commissioner and hear about what Treaty will mean for them and their families, and how the voting process will work.
The vote for a Treaty making representative body, which is expected to be held later this year, will include ballots from First Nations people incarcerated in the state's prisons, after the Commissioner announced earlier this year that being incarcerated will not impede their right to vote.
During the voting process for the Treaty making representative body – now to be known as, the First People's Assembly of Victoria – Indigenous prisoners will be asked to vote for their representative of choice in the division in which they resided prior to being incarcerated.
“I think it went really well. At the beginning it was really hard to encourage them to think about the concept and have an open conversation,” Ms Gallagher told NITV News.
"There were a couple of men who actually raised some really good issues around what their aspirations for treaties are, but overall it was a good visit.”
While the date of the vote is still yet to be determined, prisoners across the state will be able to vote via post or online, with the Commission also hoping to set up polling booths in the major prisons with high Indigenous populations.
Ms Gallagher said it will be expensive to do so, however she said she has received some welcome suggestions from prisoners.
“One of [the prisoners], he doesn’t talk up in public very well, but he is really interested to see how this pans out," she said.
"His comments were, ‘We’ve got to send a strong message to Government, so we need our people enrolling, Jill’. He said we should be looking at volunteers. So, he’s thinking about it already and he said he was going to write me a letter with some other ideas."
Ms Gallagher was accompanied by independent prison visitor and Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee chair, Robert Nicholls. Mr Nicholls commended the Department of Justice for allowing the Commission to visit.
"I think it was good. We had a couple of Aboriginal men come from Beechworth, so I think the prion itself, or the Department of Justice itself, is going a long way to ensure that Aboriginal prisoners do have a say and have a vote," he said.
However, he was critical of how some of the information was presented to the prisoners on the day by the Commission, citing a lack of resources.
"One would have thought that when you went out to do roadshows like this here, even though it is a prison, that you would think that you'd bring out ample brochures and pamphlets and information so they can take that back to their groups and talk about it and discuss it," said Mr Nicholls.
He also suggested some prisoners may feel shame asking questions in such a large group, or that they may not be able to read or write.
"There was about 20-odd people there and they're all looking at one piece of paper. By the time you spent time looking at it and reading it, the others didn't get a chance to have a look at it. I'm hoping that the Commissioner will learn by this and that she has taken some stuff away with her in regards to how this went," he said.
"The other states are looking at Victoria in terms of, 'how do we go about the Treaty', and the thing is, we've got to get this right, because if we don't get this right, then I don't think we will get another chance."
The Treaty Advancement Commission has since promised more materials will be sent to prisons, and Ms Gallagher has invited all prisoners leaving prison and wishing to know more about the process to visit the Commissions Carlton office, or to call the 1800 TREATY hotline.