Over a year into the process of working towards a Treaty, the Victorian government announced on Friday it would commit another $28.5 million dollars over the next 4 years to further negotiations. $16 million are to be set aside for the treaty process itself, and the rest of the money will fund an overseeing body, more community consultations and future integrated state planning.
While the structure of the new managing body was supposed to be finalised at the third state-wide Treaty forum, things didn't quite work out that way. Instead, many of the 300 participants raised questions about the fundamentals of the deal, and others tested the concept of clan representation.
The Aboriginal Treaty Interim Working Group (ATIGW) comprised of 10 community members and 6 ministerial appointments backed their views.
The state government suggested a statutory body for the new representative organisation, much like the former federal structure of The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
“Treaty making isn’t always all hunky dory."
Jill Gallagher AO, Aboriginal Treaty Interim Working Group Co-Chair, told NITV News the interim working group favours the creation of a legal framework for the representative body which will take the form of a company limited by guarantee. The details would be discussed at a community assembly to take place in the next phase of consultations.
“We have recommended that at the community assembly we make a legal framework for the treaty, which will put some meat on the bones of what we hope and want to see in a treaty and how it will be governed,” Ms Gallagher said.
Ms Gallagher says that she considers that the treaty process has still far to go, despite some critics’ observations alleging that the state government is moving ‘too much too soon’, without proper consultation.
“The interim body needs to help advise on what a potential structure a for what a treaty is, and the interim body also has to help advise on the legal framework that will make up and support the representative body.
“It will be the representative body that will help establish the treaty commission, and this may well lead to creating a task force of clans and Traditional Owners, and it will be them that discuss a treaty with the Victorian government,” she added.
However, Ms Gallagher also explained that the representative body needs to be embedded in state legislation, and that’s why there is a sense of urgency.
“We want to get this legislation in place to protect the representative body before the next state election, and it’s for this reason that the interim working group is pushing for some things to happen quickly.
“Treaty will take a long time, getting the framework right and protected early is pretty important,” she explained.
When asked if she thought the concept of clan representation a viable proposition being considered, Ms Gallagher said she doesn’t dismiss it.
“Is it viable... Many of the interim working group are part of or are representatives of different clans.
“But Victoria used to have over 300 clans, there’s about half of that now, so in many respects that traditional way has long since gone, but could clan representation be considered, of course it could, but we aren’t in a hurry to decide now,” she said.
Despite all the unknowns, the forum made one thing clear – there's a lot of passion and more questions are being raised than resolved so far.
Ms Gallagher believes this is just part of the natural course of the process.
“Treaty making isn’t always all hunky dory. But what I do know is that there isn’t an Aboriginal voice at a political level, and that’s what is missing. What we of course need in Victoria is an independent body that can take up our causes and hold politicians to account, like how ATSIC had done in the past. So this is important. We need people to help keep politicians accountable.”
The Working Group will pursue further consultation about a way forward and the structural framework as a result of the two day forum.