• Constitutional law expert Cheryl Saunders says a treaty could provide more rights for Indigenous Australians. (NITV)Source: NITV
As the Victorian Government moves to negotiate a treaty, Professor Cheryl Saunders tells The Point how the agreement could help heal past wounds, and shape the future.
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The Point
7 Mar 2016 - 10:25 PM  UPDATED 8 Mar 2016 - 8:11 AM

A treaty in Victoria could have real benefits for Indigenous Australians, according to Constitutional law expert Cheryl Saunders.

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"(The treaty) might deal with past wrongs, reparations, might deal with future treatment - the way in which services are negotiated and delivered to Indigenous Victorians in the future," she says.

"It depends what's in the treaty and we don't yet know that.

"It's a matter of negotiations between Indigenous Victorians and the state government now."

The comments come after the Victorian Government signalled its willingness to negotiate a treaty with the state's Aboriginal nations. 

Depending on the nature of the treaty, the Melbourne Law School professor says there's also potential for the agreement to be purely symbolic.

"The question is what sort of instrument will this treaty be?" she says.

"If it's only an executive arrangement between Indigenous people and the state government, then it will have serious formal effect, but it won't be able to affect rights in any way."

Professor Saunders says the absence of a Commonwealth treaty arrangement was part of the "legacy of Terra Nullius", the notion that Australia belonged to no one at the time of British colonisation.

"(It was) the idea that Indigenous people either weren’t here or didn’t have the sort of legal status that would enable them to enter into arrangements of this kind," she says.

"All the other Commonwealth countries, New Zealand and Canada in particular, did it at the time the Europeans arrived."