• Lidia Thorpe stands between clan Elders Bobby Nicholls and Geoff Clark. (AAP)Source: AAP
A historic gathering of Aboriginal Elders has taken place at Victoria's parliament, with the group calling for fundamental changes to be implemented in the state's treaties process.
Rachael Hocking

14 May 2018 - 3:44 PM  UPDATED 14 May 2018 - 5:03 PM

The meeting was spearheaded by Victorian Greens MP and Gunai/Kurnai woman, Lidia Thorpe, who has been critical of the Labor government's approach since the treaty process started in 2016, launching the Greens' own campaign for clan-based treaties in March. 

Ms Thorpe says that clan Elders have not been properly resourced to engage in the dialogues, with the government appointing government officials to lead the conversation.

Boon Wurrung Elder Carolyn Briggs spoke on behalf of the inaugural Clan Elders Council on Treaty after discussions, calling the government's treaty process "flawed".

"We call for a treaty process that respects and acknowledges our clans," she said. 

"Our sovereignty and each of our language groups and our clans must be clearly recognised in the government's treaty advancement legislation."

Ms Thorpe said the decision to form an Elders' Council was unanimous among the group. 

"Everyone in the room wanted an Elders' Council to be established. Everyone wanted to have the authority around the treaty advancement process. Everyone wanted to ensure that our sovereignty was acknowledged by the government," she said. 

The Greens define clan-based treaties as agreements which acknowledge the roughly 100 clans throughout the state, their unique languages and cultures, and which understand that sovereignty was never ceded.

Speaking on the steps of parliament prior to the gathering, renowned actor and Boon Wurrung Elder Jack Charles said he felt he hadn't been able to participate in the treaty process until now. 

"I've seen other meetings happening and that, and I've always thought to myself, 'well why didn't I know about this?' I felt I've been left out of the loop," he said.

Uncle Jack Charles said different clans had different ideas of what a treaty could bring, and that he hoped the government would be open to a "parley" with the Victorian Aboriginal people.

"From my own perspective we have certain demands that we will place on the state of Victoria. Demands, for instance, to reconstitute our missing community centres in our small and large towns, and to have a permanent Elders' presence in our prisons and youth detention centres," he said. 

Meanwhile the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations has called for bipartisan support of Victoria's treaty advancement legislation.

In a letter to Ms Thorpe on May 11, the Federation said the proposed sovereign clan model was "not universally supported".

"All Traditional Owner Corporations acknowledge the importance and centrality of their clans to their identity, but have chosen to organise politically at the higher level of Nation, language group, or peoples," the letter said. 

The road to Australia's first treaties 

It's been two years since Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins announced the state government would be engaging in consultations with the community to establish a treaty, after a gathering of 500 leaders from across the state unanimously opposed constitutional recognition. 

Since then, treaties have been flagged in the Northern Territory, as well as by the opposition in New South Wales. They have also temporarily stalled in South Australia under the new Liberal government. 

Ms Thorpe has maintained opposition to the Victorian treaty process since the end of 2016, when she left the Interim Working Group in charge of consultations because she felt her cultural integrity was being compromised.

In the year and a half since then, state and regional consultations have taken place. Gunditjmara woman Jill Gallagher was appointed treaty commissioner and legislation was introduced into the state parliament.

The bill outlines the establishment of an Aboriginal Representative Body, guiding principles for treaty negotiations and a self-determination fund to support equal participation in the treaty process.

The bill is expected to be debated in coming weeks. 

In a statement to NITV News, the Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Natalie Hutchins said the government will "consider the outcome of the meeting today". 

Treaty laws introduced to Vic Parliament
The Victorian government has introduced the country's first treaty laws into parliament, while the Greens launched their own campaign for Clan-based treaties.