The journey towards a Victorian First Nations treaty appears to have slowed at yesterday's Aboriginal Victoria Forum in Melbourne.
An interim working group was established mid-year, tasked with holding community consultations across Victoria, and developing options for a representative body that undertakes treaty negotiations.
In the past six months it has held talks in 10 locations.
One of the primary goals of yesterday’s forum was to reach a community consensus on the shape of the representative body, and the next stage of the process.
But in the morning, there were noticeably fewer people in attendance compared to the last forum, although numbers did increase in the afternoon.
Much of the dissent voiced at the latest forum centred around the process of community consultations.
Lidia Thorpe who was in the working group, but left when she thought her cultural integrity was being compromised, said the process had been badly managed.
“We withdrew as a result of bad process, a bureaucratic run process, we put that in writing to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Premier, Daniel Andrews, and we still to this day don't have a response,” she said.
Attending on the day, Victorian woman Ellie told NITV News: “There’s certainly been a process that was selected that maybe hasn’t engaged at a community level that we’d normally expect. So that’s been difficult to reconcile, because the structures are there and in place to have those proper conversations, and it’s not entirely clear why that hasn’t happened.”
Fellow attendee Darren said: “To us the whole process has been rushed. I understand because I got a little bit of knowledge about what’s going on, and this is not about designing the treaty now, this is about designing the process to talk about a treaty – so it’s a long, long way off.”
Meanwhile others, like Aboriginal Victoria director Jason Mifsud, said while there were differences of opinion, he believed the community could come together to achieve the end goal.
“I guess that's a challenge for the community, can we organise ourselves enough, and well enough, to reach that milestone?”
Introducing the forum, community leader and facilitator Richard Frankland called for calm.
He told NITV he believes the community wants to see the process through without lateral violence.
“All our communities, right around the country, are seeking a dispute resolution process in our cultural shape. We wanna be able to resolve our disputes our way, without violence, without spiritual violence,” he said.
Ms Thorpe and others have been calling for greater inclusion of Elders’ voices.
Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchens said the government had raised an Elder’s council with the working group.
“That's something we asked the interim working group to have a look at, and report back on as well,” she said.
“I think at the end of the day we could end up with an elected representative body, and an elder's group existing, there are a whole range of options that are going to be considered.”
However Lidia Thorpe said she had yet to see any movement.
“We're now in December, she hasn't had any conversations with anybody about an Elder's council,” she said.
Meanwhile members of the Interim Working group tried to reassure the forum that the community would be listened to.
Speaking as part of the last panel for the day, Jill Gallagher said the forum was listening to people’s concerns about the process.
“We've heard from some people that they don't think the process has been fair or the right process, and we've heard that,” she told the audience.
“We're only human too, we don't get the whole process right, but it's not the end of the process. It's actually the beginning.”