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Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
22 June 2022

I want to begin in speaking on behalf of the Greens to the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that this Parliament is on, the Wurundjeri and Woi Wurrung people. I want to pay my respects to their elders past and present, to those who are here today, to all members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and to all First Nations people who have worked so hard to develop this legislation and progress treaty in Victoria. This always was and always will be Aboriginal land, and I think it is important to state in this chamber that sovereignty has never been ceded, and it is so critical to make sure that that point is made here, particularly in relation to treaty.

The Greens warmly welcome the introduction of this bill. The authority is the centrepiece to the treaty process and is critical to its success. I really want to thank the co-chairs, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, for your inspiring speeches and wisdom imparted to us today. Treaties are fundamental—fundamental to healing the deep wounds caused to First Nations peoples and communities by the colonisation of this land. The horrors of colonisation cannot be understated: stolen land, massacres, communities taken away from their land and being forced to live on missions, children stolen from families, cultural practices and language forbidden to be practised.

Yet First Nations people of our state and our country live on. With pride and perseverance they have called and are calling for rights and justice. It gives me great pleasure to tell the First Nations people that we hear those calls—loud and clear do we hear those calls—and as a Parliament today we act and as a community we walk together. That is why this bill and treaty are just so important. They are a way to begin to fix the wrongs that have occurred, to address the wrongs. They are an agreement between the government and First Peoples where on equal footing parties negotiate reparations, rights to land and water, rights to self-government and rights to economic opportunities. It is an opportunity to negotiate how the story of this state, its landscapes and its institutions can be revised to reflect the true history of our state and of the land that we are on and not the whitewashed version that has been told for the past few hundred years. Treaty is an opportunity to heal and to create a better future based on mutual respect, on rights and on empowerment of the First Peoples of this land.

It has been welcome to note that in this debate there is agreement across parties, government and opposition. Certainly the Greens are strongly supportive of treaty. We are strong advocates for treaty. There is no stronger advocate within the Greens, I must note, than my former state colleague, now senator, Lidia Thorpe, who has been calling for treaty and justice inside and outside Parliament. It has been incredible to see in Victoria and across the country the movement of elders, of community leaders, of clans, of First Nations, of young people and of grassroots communities who have fought for decades for rights and self-determination and who have elevated calls for treaty. It has been so amazing to see and it is so incredible to see that we are taking these steps today.

In the bill itself, as outlined in the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 and further articulated in the Treaty Authority Agreement established in this bill, the role of the Treaty Authority is to facilitate and oversee treaty negotiations, administer the treaty negotiation framework, assist parties to resolve disputes which may arise in treaty negotiations and carry out research to support and inform treaty negotiations. This is the cornerstone body in the treaty process. The independence of this authority and ensuring that it is empowered to uphold lore as well as Western law and cultural authority is absolutely critical to the treaty process. This will help decolonise this process to the best extent possible in the current circumstances.

The bill establishes the novel legal arrangements of the authority as an unincorporated body with the roles and responsibilities of a body corporate. This will hopefully provide the legal parameters to secure its independence. We strongly welcome that the Treaty Authority’s funding is established in legislation, ensuring that there is limited interference from government without the accountability process of Parliament. It is so important that that funding is not beholden to budget cycles.

The bill is somewhat brief. The detail of the Treaty Authority’s process for the establishment, structure and accountability measures is contained within the Treaty Authority Agreement made between the state and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. The agreement lays out important processes and tenets for the five authority members to be selected and to operate under. The tenets of upholding self-determination and empowerment of First Peoples, independence and impartiality, accountability, relationship building, facilitation and integrity, as well as the members’ cultural knowledge, wisdom, humility, technical competency and experience, are all deeply critical criteria. We support the tenets of this agreement wholeheartedly.

We do have some concerns regarding the implementation of the tenets of the agreement. We have seen in the establishment and operation of other bodies, certainly in the truth and treaty process, that some have been set up in a way that some First Nations peoples do not consider to be fair, equitable and representative. For example, there are many nations that have been excluded from the First Peoples’ Assembly for years, and whilst there has been progress made to provide an avenue for representation, there remain significant concerns and barriers to their involvement. There are some nations without the direct secretariat funding needed to take the necessary steps to work through the administrative processes. Some of the funds from the nation-building package for non-registered Aboriginal party nations have not necessarily flowed through to reach these communities who are in desperate need of resources. This really goes to the importance of ensuring that within the act there is fairness and equality for all parties and traditional owners. Put simply, we cannot have a process that undermines the treaty process.

The Treaty Authority must be the circuit-breaker in correcting course and re-establishing a treaty process that acts in accordance with the honourable principles and tenets laid out within the treaty act and within the Treaty Authority Agreement. It is absolutely critical to the success of the authority and to the treaty process for all First Peoples. It must be a body trusted by all nations to uphold the tenets of impartiality and uphold self-determination and empowerment of all peoples. Little more is important to the integrity of the treaty process. The values and the equality for all First Peoples must also be extended to the administration and the self-determination fund which this bill establishes as a responsibility of the Treaty Authority. The fund must be of significant size and be fairly managed if it is to operate in accordance with its legislated obligation in the treaty act to create equal standing between state and parties.

And let me be clear: when we are talking about the state, with all its staffing, legal experts and financial resources, being on equal standing with parties, including nations who do not have those things or little of those things, equal standing is a critical legislated obligation agreed to by this government that we expect to be fully met with the self-determination funds, and that means significant funds for First Peoples for equal staffing, skilling, legal advisers and community consultation for all applicants to the treaty negotiation. The distribution of self-determination funds must be impartial, fair and equitable. Now more than ever we need a commitment from everyone involved in this process to right this wrong, to ensure that the Treaty Authority brings the impartiality and the commitment to fairness and self-determination for all traditional owner groups that they have not had so far.

Today I would like to conclude by saying that the Greens will continue to fight for treaty and for this process. We will continue to hold government to account and push them to make sure that there is integrity in this process so that the principles and values and tenets that are legislated are being implemented in the bodies and in the framework. I noted before that all parties in this place are supportive of this bill and of treaty. I note that there will be be some voices in this Parliament and outside who are not supporting treaty or who have dismissed it as symbolism. These voices tend to go missing a lot when it comes to things like the funding needed for Aboriginal services, whether it is for health, whether it is for housing, whether it is for legal and justice services or whether it is for building capacity. It is so interesting how the voices that dismiss things like treaty or other measures as symbolism go missing when the dollars are there to be divvied up, so I would not give too much credence to those voices who are opposing this process in Parliament today.

We will continue to fight for an inclusive, fair and just treaty process. I commend the bill to the house. This is such an important step forward for what has been missing in our state and in our country since colonisation and what has been fought for for decades: treaty.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
22 June 2022
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