Transcript: Judicial College of Victoria


This is a transcript of the Treaty Advancement Commissioner's speech at the Judicial College of Victoria, on 27 February, 2018. 

I'd like to acknowledge that I am on Aboriginal land and I'd like to pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I'd like to thank Justice Kaye for the invitation to speak today, and I would like to acknowledge the members of the Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Committee, and also members of the judiciary who are here to join us this afternoon. So thank you very much.

Today I'm going to share with you how the Aboriginal community here in Victoria is driving the journey towards treaty, or treaties, and reflect on my responsibilities as the newly appointed Victorian Aboriginal Treaty Advancement Commissioner.

I'll start off with a little background ... and listen, if I tend to go over someone needs to give me the windup.

I don't have a lot of University degrees, but the last time I looked they said I had a PhD in mouthing off, so just keep that in mind and don't forget to wind me up if need be.

We all know that Aboriginal culture, we know that it's ancient and we know that it's contemporary.

It's strong but it's also very vulnerable, and it's also oldest living culture in the world.

That's what we've got in our back door.

Colonisation had a devastating impact on our country's first peoples.

Colonisation was rapid and it was very brutal, and there were crimes against humanity that were committed.

Those crimes against humanity, we still feel, when I say we, we the Aboriginal communities, we still feel the impacts of those crimes and that manifests ... you yourselves will probably see that in your working lives ... that manifests in many ways.

For example, in 2016 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were imprisoned in Victoria at twelve times the rate of the broader population.

This rate has nearly doubled in the past ten years.

In 2013 the Sentencing Advisory Council found, even when controlling for offending history, Aboriginal Victorians were more likely than non-Aboriginal offenders, to receive a custodial sentence for the same offence.

But despite all the social issues we see in our communities today, despite the ongoing legacy and its associated trauma, government have never before apologised, nor sought to provide redress, for the impact of colonisation.

Aboriginal Victorians have never ceded sovereignty and we have long called for treaty with government, as Justice Kaye said in his opening remarks.

In May 2016 the government heeded this call and committed to beginning treaty discussions with Aboriginal people who are from Victoria.

The first stage of this process is developing a representative structure, who the government should work with. We refer to this structure as a representative body.

The representative body will be the counterpart to the state in establishing the elements necessary to begin negotiations on treaty, or treaties.

The treaty process has, and will continue to be, led by Aboriginal Victorians.

Back in 2016, when the state government heard the calls for treaty and put it on the agenda, there was no mechanism, no existing mechanism in this state that could advance a treaty process.

We've never had a representative body in this state.

We've never had an Aboriginal voice in this state.

So the treaty process will continue to be led by Aboriginal Victorians, and what we did back then was establish a Victorian Aboriginal Treaty Working Group.

Consultations and engagement by the Working Group with community has driven the process to date.

Since 2016 over 7,000 people have been engaged in developing the treaty process and the representative body, including over 2,000 in face to face meetings.

That's a big task, but we did it.

The Aboriginal Treaty Working Group was established back in 2016 to consult with the Aboriginal community and develop options for the representative body.

The Working Group, as it is currently formed, consists of tradition owners, Aboriginal people from state-wide Aboriginal community controlled organizations, young people, and independent traditional owners.

They have been, for the past eighteen months, the key voice to government in the process to date, and have guided government’s engagement and consultations with community.

The Working Group, in partnership with community, has designed the approach to the consultations on the design of a representative body.

Consultations has included; state-wide forums, roadshows, treaty circles, online message sticks, any way we could do it.

My role is also to continue that engagement.

Just before Christmas, an Aboriginal Community Assembly was developed and established.

The role of the Community Assembly is just like a Community citizen jury of some sort.

So, after all the engagement we did do, we wanted to road test some of the thinking that was coming out of the Working Group, and the Community Assembly was one way we thought we could achieved this.

So the Community Assembly was established and had some very broad parameters for the design and scope of a representative body.

In November and December 2017 the Community Assembly was convened in Melbourne.

The Assembly’s role was to affirm the broad parameters and provide recommendations to the Working Group.

That report has now been finalised and you can find it on our website, if people are interested in having a look.

The report contains recommendations from the Community Assembly about what a Representative Body could look like.

At the moment we're just going through that and working through how we implement, or what we're going to implement.

In January 2018 the work of the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner started.

The Commission provides another degree of independence from Government.

It was really important that the Working Group and the Commission be independent from government, more than what we had been in the past, and this strengthens the independence of the Victoria Aboriginal community on a path to treaty.

My primary role is to establish a representative body.

It's not to negotiate a treaty or treaties.

I have a responsibility to also continue to engage with the Aboriginal people in Victoria, my own mob.

My office is currently working through what we're calling treaty road trips.

How do we do that, we want to try to get to as many people, including non-Aboriginal people.

We need to have conversations with the wider, broader Victorian population so people don't misunderstand, or get scared, or think we're after their backyard, because that’s not going to happen.

So I think it's really important that my office actually has conversations with the broader population, and we'll continue to do that.

There are challenges with setting up a representative body.

There are challenges with my role.

There are challenges with trying to unpack the devastation that colonisation had on our clans, or our communities, or however you want to refer to us.

We have to know who is speaking for country, which group, you know, unpack all that.

Prior to colonisation in Victoria, there were over 300 clans that thrived and lived in what we now know as the state of Victoria.

Some of those clans went across borders ... we now have borders, the Murray river is a border for Victoria and New South Wales.

We have clans across both sides of the river, so how do we deal with those challenges?

How do we mobilise the community to participate in this?

And once we have the representative body, then we can start, their role will be to actually establish a treaty negotiation framework.

There are also other challenges.

We have Aboriginal people from all over Australia that live in Victoria. We have Torres Strait Islanders, we have Murrays, we have Noongars, we have people from Tasmania, they're referred to as Palawa.

So there are those challenges. How do they engage in the treaty process?

Should they engage in the treaty process?

They're all challenges that we have to, questions that we have to answer in developing this representative body.

I don't think I'll go on for too much longer, but in conclusion I just wanted to say I am the first Treaty Advancement Commission in Victoria.

I feel it's a great honour to be appointed in that position, but it also could be seen as scary times.

Everyone looks at you as the Lone Ranger and you're going to solve all the problems.

Not only from a government perspective but also from a community perspective.

It’s about how we manage the expectations that are out there and how do we take it forward.

Thank you for listening.