I rise to speak on the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022. I acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which this Parliament stands, the Wurundjeri. I pay my respects to their elders and ancestors past, present and emerging.
Sometimes in this place we do not cover ourselves in glory. Sometimes we have a little bit too much grandstanding, which is not something we can be proud of. But today we can be proud. To see this bill debated here in this Parliament fills me with a great sense of pride. I would like to begin by acknowledging the incredible leadership of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, which is the democratically elected voice leading the treaty process in Victoria. This bill has been shaped and driven by the Assembly—thank you. As the Assembly co-chair and proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation said:
It’s time to do things differently, enough of the top-down government approach. Treaty is about putting First Peoples in the driver’s seat so we can make the decisions that affect our communities …
It was a historic moment in June, prior to this bill being debated in the other place, when the Assembly’s co-chairs, accompanied by the rest of the Assembly members, addressed the Parliament and asked MPs to support this bill and breathe life into the Treaty Authority. Today I am proud to stand with the Assembly and pledge my support.
This bill puts us on a path towards treaty, a path towards reconciliation. It is an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the pain inflicted by colonisation and to work towards creating a better future. The bill establishes an independent body responsible for negotiating a treaty or treaties between government and Victoria’s First Peoples. This is critical to the treaty process as it will facilitate negotiations and resolve disputes. My hope is that this independent umpire will be effective in ensuring mutual respect and that negotiations are undertaken in good faith.
This treaty authority is without precedent. I have no doubt that other jurisdictions will soon follow suit with their own treaty authorities, recognising that the government being party to negotiations prevents it from being able to umpire such an important process. The success of these negotiations will depend on engagement, conversation and productive relations. I am confident that there is the will to make this happen. I have heard arguments that this authority is unnecessary and that negotiations should be carried out by the Parliament. I disagree. The treaty process is too important to be subject to the politics of this house. The authority will sit outside government bureaucracy and will not report to a minister: this authority is independent.
Central to this treaty process is the right of self-determination. Self-determination is an ongoing process of choice to ensure that First Nations communities are able to meet their social, cultural and economic needs. All peoples have the right to self-determination, but we know the opportunities for First Nations Australians to exercise this right have been limited due to ongoing colonisation, dispossession, exclusion and discrimination. The Treaty Authority is just the beginning of a systematic change that is needed.
The members of this Treaty Authority will be appointed by an independent panel and will all be First Peoples. In the future I expect to see some structural change that facilitates First Nations community-led policy development. There is much work to be done, and of course this is a complex process and there will be many views expressed. The treaty, or treaties, will mean different things to different people. All we can do is move forward with compassion, an open mind and a genuine desire to do the best we can for our First Nations people. This is about giving First Nations people the power to make their own decisions about issues that affect their lives and their communities. This bill is a step in the right direction, and I am proud to support it today. I commend this bill to the house.