• NT Treaty Commissioner Mick Dodson has released his Treaty Discussion Paper. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner Professor Mick Dodson has urged the state government to 'immediately' start a truth telling process before treaty negotiations commence.
Keira Jenkins

16 Jul 2020 - 5:55 PM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2020 - 5:55 PM

Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner Mick Dodson has provided a framework for Treaty consultations in the state in a new discussion paper.

The paper sets a 2022 deadline for the final report from the Treaty Commissioner to be presented to the Chief Minister, and it outlines the need for truth telling as a separate process to negotiating treaties, and stresses that these processes cannot wait.

Professor Dodson told NITV News that, as outlined in the discussion paper, truth telling is of the utmost importance.

"We have to deal with the past before we can go forward," he said.

"A lot of horrible things have happened in the colonisers' invasion of the country. A lot of people suffered and they're still suffering.

"Government policy and action since has also been devastating. We're still dealing with, for example, the awful practice of child removal - the Stolen Generations.

"They're things that Aboriginal people are dealing with, mostly no other Australians have to deal with those things and the negative impact of those things.

"We need to address that, and recognise and accept that it's part of a shared history that we need to eventually draw a line under.

"We're not going to do that without accepting the awful experiences of too many people - too many Indigenous people in the colonial history, which is still having an impact."

Professor Dodson said what is crucial is that once treaty negotiations begin, Indigenous people are at the forefront of the discussions and the process of constitutional recognition. He said these two things do not have to be 'mutually exclusive' and these processes can complement each other.

He told NITV News that there is need for change.

"What we're doing is not working, generally speaking," he said.

"We are not closing the gap, so I suggest we try something else that has proven overseas in Canada, the United States and Aotearoa (New Zealand), they do treaties and that works. That proves it works."

Professor Dodson said he is looking forward to travelling to discuss the paper with the state's First Nations peoples, and welcomes honest and constructive feedback.

'Doing something right'

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said 'great strides' have been taken, leading towards treaty for the Northern Territory.

“This isn’t about doing something quickly, this is about doing something right," he said.

“This discussion paper is positive progress, which will guide the work for Treaty, making sure the voices of Aboriginal Territorians across the Territory are heard."

The document will form the basis of the Treaty Commission’s community consultations, set to occur in the next few months.

NT Aboriginal Affairs Minister Selena Uibo said Professor Dodson will work with Indigenous people to discuss how best to advance the treaty process.

“The Barunga Agreement committed the Northern Territory to a new path of reconciliation, one we have been walking the past year not only with the appointment of Professor Dodson but with the signing of LDM [local decision making] agreements across the Territory," she said.

“These partnerships ensure decisions for communities are locally led. Local decisions are the best decisions.”

'Unfinished business'

The discussion paper, that was informed by 50 awareness sessions with Aboriginal organisations in the NT, says the processes of treaty and truth telling are essential for the future of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia.

"Unfinished business clutters the path of Australian history," the paper reads.

"Treaties provide an opportunity for some necessary truth-telling that addresses this unfinished business and to do something about it, for a genuine renewal in the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians."

But it also warns that any legislation regarding treaties in the Territory must also comply with Federal laws, or risk being ruled invalid.

"Any Northern Territory legislation giving effect to a treaty or treaties must comply with the Constitution and the present or future laws of the Commonwealth," the paper reads.

"Terms of any treaty that are inconsistent with Commonwealth legislation will be invalid."

Truth-telling and justice process continues pathway towards Victoria Treaty
Victoria's pathway towards Treaty with First Nations peoples of the south-east of Australia continues to progress as the state government announces a partnership with the First People's Assembly to establish a truth-telling process.