Wednesday, 22 June 2022


Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022



Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022

Second reading

Debate resumed.

Ms KILKENNY (Carrum) (14:50): What an absolutely historic day today has been for all Victorians. I think in the years ahead we will certainly look back on this day as something truly special and something quite remarkable for not just us present in this place but all Victorians. Today of course is the day that the co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Bangerang and Wiradjuri elder, Geraldine Atkinson, or Aunty Geri, and Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation, Marcus Stewart, each made a really historic address to us here in the Legislative Assembly in both English and their Aboriginal language. Of course they told us what the treaty process means to them, to their families and to Victorian Aboriginal communities, and theirs were really powerful words on why treaty is so important. I think that reflects also just why it is so important that we heed their words.

We heard in particular why we must find a new way of doing things here in Victoria, obviously no longer relying on a colonial system, a combative system and an adversarial system. They have told us that we need to be courageous and brave and bold; to find a new way of doing things here in Victoria, and to embrace a new way of open communication, of dialogue, of integrity, of honesty and importantly of trust as well. I really want to acknowledge the powerful words spoken in this place today—the compelling message—and the unequivocal call for unanimous support from all members in this place for the path that is before us. I think that is a really, really important message. As leaders in this place we must show leadership by now listening. It is our turn to listen because now our First Peoples are speaking, and we hear you.

I want to acknowledge the hurt, the pain and the trauma caused to so many Aboriginal Victorians over so many years, but I also want to acknowledge their pride. I think this is something each and every single one of us should really reflect on—pride that has endured stolen land, stolen language, stolen culture and of course stolen lives; a pride that has really endured everything that has been done by this state and this nation to effectively try to silence our First Peoples—to eradicate them, to wipe them out, to eliminate, to destroy and to make invisible. These are our First Peoples, and this is to our collective shame. I ask anyone to show me any people in the world who have shown this much strength, this much resilience and this much fortitude. I am just so proud and so humbled to be standing here today and to have witnessed history in this place, and I am really proud to be taking this journey and being shown and taught by our First Peoples, teachers of the oldest continuing living culture in the world. I want to thank each and every member of the First Peoples’ Assembly for showing us and effectively teaching us the way.

I wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners of the land upon which this Parliament stands, and I pay my respects to them, their elders past and present, and I extend that respect to all First Peoples who have been present here today with us in Parliament. I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where I live and the land where my electorate of Carrum is, and that is the Bunurong people, and I pay my deepest respects to them and their elders past, present and future. They have taught us what to do. They have shown us what needs to happen, and that is as it should be, and that is this: that better outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians, for our First Peoples, depend on those peoples being able to make decisions that impact their lives, that impact them, their communities, their culture, their lore and their country. This entire process is about self-determination and making sure that we have a system in place that empowers Aboriginal Victorians to make their own decisions about the way they live their lives. This is about a voice for First Peoples. It is for treaty but not just for treaty. This is a voice for the future of First Peoples for years to come, and the bill before us is a really important part of this.

The bill will support the establishment and ongoing operation of the Treaty Authority, and that is as required by the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018. The Treaty Authority, as we know, was established by agreement, an agreement which was legally executed by the state and the First Peoples’ Assembly on Monday, 6 June 2022, and exchanged in a ceremony in Lorne on Friday, 10 June 2022.

The bill confers on the Treaty Authority the powers and legal capacity for it to operate effectively and perform its functions as an independent body to oversee treaty negotiations between First Peoples and the state of Victoria. It will be made up entirely of First Peoples members and be called upon to observe and uphold Aboriginal lore and law and the cultural authority of First Peoples in the treaty process. Importantly it will be all led by Aboriginal voices and Aboriginal leaders. The bill ensures secure and ongoing funding, which is really important because it then becomes independent of the government’s annual budget process. But I think most importantly it is establishing the Treaty Authority as something truly independent, so it will not report to a minister, nor will it be subject to the direction or control of a minister or the government. It cannot be.

As Aunty Geri said this morning, it is a unique model because it has to be. We are embarking on what is really unique nation-leading work, and there is no precedent for this. But what we do know for sure is this: treaty is absolutely the right thing to do. Treaty will change our state forever and, I believe, our nation too. Treaty will change forever the way we view and understand our identity and our history but also our future. I think, really importantly, treaty will give back what was never ours to take in the first place, and that is of course that this land is Aboriginal land and always was and always will be.

I would like to acknowledge all members of the First Peoples’ Assembly for their incredible work in getting us to where we are today. I also wish to acknowledge the work of the former Victorian treaty advancement commissioner, Jill Gallagher AO, and the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group, who worked with traditional owners, elders and young people to establish the democratically elected Aboriginal representative body.

I want to read from the act that we introduced in 2018. It was the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018. That was a significant day in itself. I think it is worth taking a look at that act, which really sets out this broader framework which we are now following. This bill is sort of the second stage of that. The preamble to that act reads as follows:

The injustices of the past cannot be undone. The State is pursuing treaty because it is the right thing to do. Victoria needs a treaty or treaties that are reciprocal, and that through truth and justice provide far reaching benefits for Aboriginal Victorians. For traditional owners, Aboriginal children, elders, and stolen people; for a society that all Victorians can all be proud of; treaty will be for all Aboriginal Victorians. In the spirit of reconciliation, treaty will be for all Victorians.

I think today, with the bill that is before the house and the call for unanimous support for this bill, we will send a really powerful, compelling message to all Victorians that now is the time for treaty. Now is the time for true leadership in showing that it is for us as parliamentarians to listen to our Aboriginal Victorians, who have shown us what the path now needs to look like and what path we now need to follow. We owe it to them to show that leadership and to be united in supporting this bill through this place this week, and I absolutely commend the bill.

Mr McCURDY (Ovens Valley) (15:00): I am delighted to rise and make a contribution on this Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022. I too want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are today and certainly the traditional owners throughout the Ovens Valley and throughout all of Victoria. Before I start my contribution I would like to acknowledge Aunty Geri and Marcus Stewart and the way they conducted themselves this morning. It was just a wonderful ceremony in this place. I know Aunty Geri. I have known her for some time. She was very nervous during the occasion, and I thought she was exceptional in the way she carried out her speech today.

Without doubt this bill is a significant step forward, and we should be able to navigate our way to a more inclusive and a more encompassing and hopefully a shared vision for all Victorians. This bill recognises the establishment of the Treaty Authority under the treaty agreement, but this time it facilitates its operations by giving legal force to its actions. It will also make minor amendments to the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018, which in itself supports the treaty negotiation framework and self-determination fund. That will assist in the establishment of those elements by agreement between the state and Aboriginal representatives.

The treaty process to date has been three distinct processes. I was privileged to have Aunty Geraldine Atkinson visit my office back in March this year, and we chatted for a good hour, discussing parts of this legislation. She was going through dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s but, more importantly, what it meant to the Aboriginal people going forward. The Bangerang people have a proud history in the Ovens Valley electorate, and Aunty Geri, in meeting with me, expressed in no uncertain terms her desire to ensure that future generations of Aboriginal people have the same opportunities as the broader communities in towns like Wangaratta, Myrtleford and Yarrawonga in my patch. Aunty Geri was really genuine in her desire to have a solid pathway forward—a pathway that will bring our communities together. As a co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly, her voice is significant. It is respected and it is a very positive voice.

There are three phases of treaty: firstly, establishment of the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group, which included the Victorian treaty advancement commissioner and an Aboriginal body, the First Peoples’ Assembly. The second phase is negotiating with the First Peoples’ Assembly on the architecture of the substantive treaty process, which includes the establishment of a Treaty Authority and a treaty negotiation framework. The third phase will be the substantive treaty negotiations between the state and Aboriginal Victorians. It has been a long road to get to this point, but I am delighted that we are here today. In this Parliament, the people of Victoria’s voice established a working group back in 2016, and the working group designed a process, a pathway, and the Victorian treaty advancement commissioner, Jill Gallagher, began her important role. I note she was in the gallery earlier today as well.

As we can see, significant steps have now been made. Although Aunty Geri represents the people of the north-east of Victoria, I cast my mind back a few years to when the late Uncle Wally Cooper represented the people of north-east Victoria. You could not find a more inclusive, a more friendly and a more welcoming man than Uncle Wally, a man who before his passing showed me and many others that this is a shared journey and there is a united way forward. With Uncle Freddie Dowling and the late Uncle Sandy Atkinson the Bullawah Cultural Trail was born in Wangaratta, and it was thanks to those elders, who helped us go forward.

I note the member for East Gippsland, who has just left the chamber, was with me when the Bullawah Cultural Trail was first established. He was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs at the time. On the Bullawah Cultural Trail the cornerstone is the Marmungun Rock, which precisely incorporates the handprints of the elders of the Indigenous community in our region in the north-east of Victoria. Each year the handprint of the Wangaratta Citizen of the Year gets etched onto that stone, the Marmungun Rock. It was due to be done, I think, about three or four weeks ago, but the inclement weather changed that, so it will be coming up again in the near future. Again, it is really inclusive, having our Aboriginal community elders and our citizens of the year both having their handprints etched onto the Marmungun Rock. It symbolises the coming together and the significant respect the community members have for each other, both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Sadly, as I say, this year’s event was postponed, but I know that both John and Jennefer Houghton, the Rural City of Wangaratta Citizens of the Year, will have their hands etched onto this stone very, very soon.

I have digressed from the bill. I still want to mention the Treaty Authority under part 4 of the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018. The Treaty Authority established by the agreement between the First Peoples’ Assembly and the state of Victoria is a necessary element of the treaty process. With the bill finally introduced on 7 June this year, it is clear the design of this Treaty Authority has been agreed to by the First Peoples’ Assembly and the state, and that is a significant step to going forward. Future steps in the treaty process, particularly part 5 of the act, require a treaty negotiation framework, and that is another significant step. I have no doubt this will be achieved sometime this year. Then the substantive negotiations can begin. It will be a delight when we get to that phase. This process, as long and as arduous as it has been, sets a framework so that we can now have confidence that we will have success going forward.

The Liberals and Nationals have previously called for treaty to be dealt with by the federal government—we know that—rather than the Victorian and other state governments. Regardless of this, this bill follows on from the commitment of all of us to support the process and advance this treaty process. I know back in Wangaratta people like Uncle Dozer and Uncle Chris Thorne will also see the massive benefits that treaty will deliver.

Our Indigenous culture has a proud history, and it is a good story to tell. We are all very proud of the way we are moving forward together and moving together as one and looking for solutions into the future. I am confident that this process—as I say, it has been a while in the making—will be a significant step forward. I certainly congratulate the co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly, Aunty Geri and Marcus Stewart, and I wish them all the best going forward.

The Nationals have been supportive of this process. We know how important it is to get a result that will last, not a result that will just turn into a talkfest. It has to turn into something else. We are confident that this will end in a result that will be beneficial to the Indigenous people and that we can all move forward together. We certainly want to see that happen sooner rather than later. I think co-chair Marcus Stewart said it best when he said this is set up by First Nations people for First Nations people. I think that is very significant along the way. It is no good having everybody else telling our First Nations people what they should do. In fact quite often I get people in my office telling me what First Nations people need, and they do not necessarily know. You need to talk to the First Nations people themselves and find out what their needs and their desires are. If we really want to succeed, this is the correct model going forward.

I have visited remote Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, and I have seen their struggles and I feel the pain. I cannot attempt to understand their plight. But I hope that this process will progress quickly and that we can all walk this land together as one, because it is about time we did. I am absolutely delighted that we have got to this point today.

Ms THOMAS (Macedon—Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Regional Development) (15:09): I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people, and I pay my respects to elders past and present, and to all elders and Aboriginal people who are here today for this historic debate.

I want also to acknowledge First Peoples’ Assembly co-chairs Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, and also Jill Gallagher AO for her incredible work as Victorian treaty commissioner. I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land of my electorate of Macedon, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung, the Jaara and the Taungurung peoples. I feel extraordinarily privileged as a non-Aboriginal person living on Taungurung country to be an elected representative in this place at this time. What an extraordinary time it is, with the First Nations Assembly, the establishment of the Yoorrook Justice Commission and now this bill before the house to establish a Treaty Authority—a First Nations designed and led organisation to oversee treaty negotiations. I want everyone in our community to be in no doubt that our government is committed to truth and justice, to righting the wrongs and to self-determination. As has been said many times already, Aboriginal people must lead this work. Aboriginal people must be in charge of their own futures. In order to do this we must commit our hearts and our heads, and we must do something that politicians and people in power are never much good at: we need to be humble. We need to talk less and listen more, and we need to understand how the history and institutions passed down to us are deeply rooted in colonialism. And we must do something even more radical for politicians like ourselves, and that is cede power to First Nations people.

I want to use this opportunity today to outline some of the areas in which our government is seeking to put into action our commitment to First Nations people. I want to talk first of Hanging Rock, a place that holds pride of place in my electorate of Macedon. In many ways it is a place that represents the huge and necessary cultural shift we are undergoing in our state. For very many years Hanging Rock has been famous as the site where imaginary white girls in white dresses went missing. The long history and connection of traditional owners has been erased from the story of Hanging Rock. I am proud that our government in partnership with traditional owners and the Macedon Ranges Shire Council are now working together to put back into the story of Hanging Rock the living culture of the traditional owners. And I am proud that the strategic plan and master plan that have been developed in partnership with traditional owners now see a place for songline trails to be developed in the Hanging Rock precinct. The rich cultural significance of Hanging Rock is what makes it so special and so important to the area, and it is crucial that we as a government and that local government and our community continue to work with traditional owners of the land to realise the potential of that very important site and to celebrate the living culture of traditional owners on that site.

In my role as a minister I have had the great privilege to travel across our state to visit the different lands of our First Nations and to meet with many traditional owners. I am particularly grateful to have been able to visit the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape on a number of occasions, each time learning something new. To me it was so important, as Minister for Agriculture, to acknowledge Budj Bim’s place in our state’s aquaculture sector, and I noted on my first visit, ‘Here is the home of aquaculture’. I want to say thank you to the Gunditjmara people for their generosity in sharing this extraordinary place with all of us here in Victoria. But it is not just for Victorians either, because I know—and I hope to be able to stand with you in pride—that Budj Bim will be an incredible destination that will be visited by people from all around the world wanting to see the ingenuity of traditional owners in action. My most recent visit was for the opening of the Tae Rak Aquaculture Centre, and it is mind-blowingly beautiful. If you have not been there, then I must encourage all Victorians to travel to Budj Bim to visit Tae Rak and to be warmly welcomed by the traditional owners of that land.

I also wanted to talk about the work that we are doing on our First Nations native foods and botanicals strategy. As Minister for Agriculture, once again I appreciate the opportunity to be able to work with and beside traditional owners in the development of this strategy. Indeed I should point out that the strategy has been developed by traditional owners and that the government will work with traditional owners to implement this strategy. What we know here and what we have seen is that there are many in our First Nations community who see the opportunity to use their knowledge of country and of the foods that have been there for thousands of years to cultivate those foods and re-establish farming practice on country. It is rather galling to see that, for instance, native crops like macadamia nuts have been commercialised with zero benefit being delivered to First Nations people.

I also want to acknowledge the work that was done prior to this strategy—and you will have to excuse my pronunciation—on Djakitjuk Djanga, which is a caring for country strategy. Thirteen grants, through this program, have been awarded, and some of those I would like to just talk about briefly. Addington Wildflowers have been supported to develop a wattleseed and pepper berry crop as part of their business, as have Black Duck Foods to extend native crop production trials of native grasses and tubers and Ripannleigh farm to enable the undertaking of crop trials for bush tomatoes. I do look forward to working with traditional owners as we seek to grow a native foods and botanicals industry in this state.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about an issue that is a little contentious in my own electorate of Macedon at the moment. Treaty is of course not just a body of work for Aboriginal Victorians. For the spirit and the outcomes of this process to be meaningful, non-Aboriginal Victorians such as me are going to need to respect the cultural rights, practices and expertise our First Nations community contain in multitudes, so I want to talk a little bit about the Wombat forest. It is an accepted fact that the First Nations people have actively managed what is now the Victorian and Australian landscape for hundreds and thousands of years. What non-First Nations people may view as wilderness is likely the effect of carefully managed burns and other land uses that only stopped with invasion. The colonial history of this nation is only a blip in the thousands of years of history and story of this land called Victoria in this nation called Australia. What we are seeing is First Nations people reclaiming their culture of landscape management. As Rodney Carter, CEO of Djaara, has said in relation to what is a groundbreaking agreement between Djaara and VicForests:

The site of trees that have stood for generations, now lying on the forest floor, is distressing for many in the community. On this scale, it is unnatural and it is deeply upsetting. It is also a fire risk that places the health of the whole forest in danger. This must be managed quickly and with sensitivity to the broader forest environment.

Dja Dja Wurrung People have managed these forests for tens of thousands of years. We have inherited the responsibility to care and the knowledge of how to care for this Country and return it to health. Making it safe is the first step in this intergenerational process of healing.

I want Rodney and the Dja Dja Wurrung people to know that they have my full support. This is self-determination in action, but it is fair to say this is a process that has challenged the thinking of many people, including those who would see themselves as committed supporters of self-determination. As I said, treaty requires humility, and it requires people who have always had power, knowledge and information to understand that their knowledge and power needs to be ceded to the First Nations people. (Time expired)

Ms SHEED (Shepparton) (15:19): I rise to make a contribution on the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022. It is the preamble to this bill which sets out so clearly the objective and wider intent of this piece of legislation, and I quote from it as follows:

By this Act, Aboriginal Victorians and the State take another step on the pathway towards treaty by making provision in relation to the Treaty Authority. The Treaty Authority is a necessary element in advancing the treaty process and has the functions given by section 28 of the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018. To perform these functions, the Treaty Authority must be, and must be perceived to be, independent from and free of interference by any party to the treaty process. To secure this independence, the Treaty Authority is established by the Treaty Authority Agreement made under Part 4 of the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018.

It has been a very long, hard journey for the Aboriginal people of Australia to achieve recognition, land rights, native title and now a process towards treaty making. This journey has been hard fought and filled with disappointment along the way, but communities here in Victoria have never given up hope, and they have continued to work hard to get to this point today where we are debating a very important bill that is part of that process.

Many of the major steps forward have occurred during my lifetime. Everyone will be aware of the 1967 referendum, which was successful in effectively transferring responsibility for many aspects of Aboriginal affairs to the commonwealth government and acknowledging the citizenship of Aboriginal people in a formal sense. That did not come easy. That was after years and years of demonstrations, of activism and of leadership in those early years that many of us will remember, and there are many famous names from that time.

In the 1970s as a young law graduate I went to Darwin to work with the then commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and the Northern Territory Department of Law. This was a time of significant change, because the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 had just been passed by the federal Parliament. This was the first piece of federal legislation that provided the basis upon which Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory could claim rights to land based on traditional occupation. The outcome of a successful land rights claim under that legislation usually meant the transfer of freehold property or a perpetual lease title to the Indigenous people who were making that claim. I learned a great deal during those years about the traditional lores, practices and land ownership of people in the Northern Territory during that time and particularly during the Warlpiri land claim, which was over an area near Alice Springs and included the Tanami Desert.

We will all remember the Mabo case, which made its way through the courts in the 1980s. It challenged two perspectives of the Australian legal system: (1) that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had no concept of land ownership before colonisation, and (2) that British sovereignty over Australia surrendered the ownership of all land to the Crown and abolished any existing rights that existed in land. This case was so significant to the development of native title law as it recognised the land rights of the Meriam people, traditional owners of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait. It was on 3 June 1992 that the Australian High Court overturned almost 200 years of law in this landmark case. Just this year Aboriginal Australians are celebrating the 30th anniversary of this land rights case and the developments that have taken place since then. This case formed the basis for the passage of the Native Title Act in 1993 in the federal Parliament.

Many native title cases have followed over the years throughout that ensuing time, and some have even gone to the High Court—the Yorta Yorta case, the Witt case. There are many, and many of them were across northern Australia. The Yorta Yorta case was the first of the native title claims to be made under the Native Title Act on mainland Australia. The lands of the Yorta Yorta and Bangerang people and the many other nations that come within the fold of that title are located in north-central Victoria between the Goulburn River and the Murray River. This was a case where the Yorta Yorta people sought exclusive possession and ownership of the land and waters within the boundaries of the land that they claimed. It was a claim made in one of the earliest and most highly settled areas of Australia and was ultimately unsuccessful, dismissed by the High Court in 2002 after many years of hearings. I was present throughout much of that case, which extended over many weeks, months and ultimately years. In the early months of those hearings we spent a great deal of time on the banks of the Goulburn River, the Murray River, Cummeragunja over towards Wangaratta—right across country—with the Federal Court setting up in those places every day and hearing from many elders of people who are no doubt ancestors of many of you here today.

It was an extraordinary process to gather so much knowledge and evidence from the people who were the elders then. It is an absolute treasure trove of information that the Yorta Yorta and all those other groups and nations who form part of the Yorta Yorta should have access to through court files, because it really goes to that issue of connection and identity. Sometimes, as the years move on, people forget the treasures that exist in terms of information and knowledge so people can trace back and connect to who their families were in situations where they may have become disconnected in many ways. I think we all acknowledge here that that connection to culture and land is just so incredibly important. The test of native title was just so unrealistic in so many ways, and native title has really not been the answer that people might have thought it would be when that legislation was passed back in 1993. Many of the claims that followed had some outcomes, but they certainly did not deliver in the way Aboriginal people across Australia had hoped that it would.

In 2010 Victoria passed the Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. Other states have passed similar legislation. It is a poor relation to native title, but it nevertheless exists here in Victoria, and it has provided the opportunity and pathway for traditional owners to make claims to land and get some recognition. In my electorate we have the Barmah National Park. The Yorta Yorta have an agreement with the government that cedes the management of that national park to the Yorta Yorta people, and the government have generously funded many steps along the way to enable that to become a very significant part of the process. The journey for land recognition has been a very long one, and right across Victoria I know of much of the pain that has gone into many cases. I have been on the periphery of the Gunditjmara case, the Gunaikurnai case and many others that have gone on throughout Victoria.

I think it is just so important that we are here today talking about treaty, about walking side by side with the Aboriginal people of our community, because it is really saying we acknowledge that this journey has been so hard and so painful, and that so many people have been lost in so many ways along the way. To all of you who are sitting here today, the leadership you have shown is extraordinary, and I just encourage you to stay strong and keep doing it because working towards treaty is the next step. I have sort of outlined the many steps that have been there along the way, and this is the next step. Let us hope that in some ways this is a light at the end of the tunnel. Let us hope that agreements can be reached. Let us hope that on a national level there will be the leadership that is required to make the acknowledgements, to look at the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to listen to Aboriginal people’s voices and to let them have a significant say in the running of the whole country but particularly in relation to their own self-determination. It is a journey. It is a hard one, but it is about time, and I certainly commend this bill to the house as part of that very important journey.

Ms SETTLE (Buninyong) (15:29): I rise to speak on the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022. I cannot think of another bill that has come before this house in my time that has had quite such importance not only for Victoria but for all of Australia. I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners of the land that Parliament is built on. I want to acknowledge that this land was stolen and never ceded.

I live on the land of the Wadawurrung people, and I want to acknowledge their extraordinary custodianship of our beautiful home. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I say those words often in my daily business, and when I say those words I like to think about who I am referring to. When I think of past leaders, there is Mullawallah, who was, sadly, the last Wadawurrung leader in the gold rush period in Ballarat. Our present leaders are so strong and so capable. I think of the Gilson family, who welcome us to country; Karen Heap and Jon Kanoa at the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative; Nikki Foy, who is now at the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, but who led the Ballarat council in acknowledging our First People; and of course, incredibly importantly, our emerging leaders, and they give me great hope. They are young and strong Indigenous voices who will lead into the future—people like Rachel Muir, Macaylah Johnson and Jaya Foy. When I listen to a welcome to country I am forever struck by the generosity of our First People—that they continue to welcome us to their country after all that has gone on before, and often sharing a little piece of their history, another story.

The Indigenous community in my area have contributed so much to our community, from sharing their stories to the extraordinary artistic contribution of people like Aunty Marlene Gilson. Aunty Marlene’s artworks tell the stories of Aboriginal myths and the goldfields and have been displayed on the Sydney Opera House. She is a direct descendent of Mullawallah. The name ‘Wadawurrung’ is a recognised tribe, which consisted of 25 clans that form part of the Kulin nation. The Wadawurrung people have lived in my region for more than 25 000 years. The traditional boundaries of the Wadawurrung span the coastline from the Werribee River to the Lorne peninsula and inland north-westerly towards Ballarat. The district that I represent is named Buninyong, and the Wadawurrung gave it that name. The Buninyong means ‘man lying down with bent knee’, and it describes the mountain that stands tall within my district. Their Dreamtime has shaped our landscape, and I look at the beautiful Lal Lal forms and listen to the Dreamtime stories of Bunjil the eagle.

But today we are here on Wurundjeri country, and today we make history. The Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 will support the establishment of a new Treaty Authority to oversee future negotiations between the state and Victoria’s First People. The creation of the Treaty Authority is a key part of the architecture that will enable treaty making between First Peoples and the state by acting as an independent umpire, grounded in Aboriginal culture and lore. The Treaty Authority is the first of its kind in Australia and is based on a model put forward by the First Peoples’ Assembly. This is an important step towards true reconciliation, towards acknowledging our past and then to building our future. As Aunty Geraldine said today:

There is no escaping the harsh reality that Aboriginal people have suffered immensely at the hands of the Victorian state.

We were driven from our lands, murdered, herded onto reserves, torn apart from our families. We were unfairly targeted and discriminated against for generations …

But you know what? We …survived. We survived the concerted attempts to eradicate us and our culture …Indeed all too often these are still the sources of ongoing injustices. That needs to change, and treaty is the way we can change it.

I would like to acknowledge that our First People are disproportionately reflected in statistics of harm. As is contained in the Uluru Statement From the Heart:

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

Representing the Wadawurrung as a reserved seat holder on the assembly is Sean Fagan, and he said:

… I am sick and tired of fighting and crying and sick and tired of seeing my family cry and all the struggle … It is time we can move forward, and it is time for change.

There’s still a lot to be done, we’ve only just started really, but we’re laying the foundations for a new way of doing things so hopefully there won’t be the heartache of the past for our people …

It’s a heavy workload, but we owe it to our ancestors and Elders, who have struggled for so long, and for our children and their children, to make this opportunity work …

Self-determination is the only way to rectify these terrible disparities. As Marcus said in his historic speech this morning from the desk, ‘treaty is not merely symbolic’, as some might say. Victoria is the first and only jurisdiction to action both the treaty and the truth elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Treaty is unfinished business, and it is an opportunity for us to come to terms with our past and work together for a shared future.

The formation of the First Peoples’ Assembly is an act of self-determination. It is democratic and reflects the First Peoples’ cultures and traditions. It is a hybrid model of reserved seating for formally recognised traditional owner groups and open seats appointed through general election. At lunch today I was honoured to meet Jordan Edwards, a young Wadawurrung man, and he told me he was elected to the assembly at just 20 years old. I really look forward to watching him as an emerging leader. The assembly has two extraordinary elected co-chairs in Marcus Stewart and Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, and their addresses today were extraordinary. Aunty Geraldine said to Parliament today that treaty requires us to do things differently, and the authority is a new structure which will allow treaty to be renegotiated on a truly equal footing between the state and the First Peoples’ Assembly.

So many people have contributed to this long journey of reconciliation, and it has been a long and hard road. I find it extraordinary that within my lifetime Indigenous people got the vote. It is extraordinary that just 50 years ago you were not recognised, and I apologise. It has taken countless brave men and women to bring us to this point, from activists like Vincent Lingiari, who in 1975 took back the traditional land that was the Wave Hill cattle station, to Edward Mabo, who righted the terrible wrong of terra nullius, and of course the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which made it clear that the only way to achieve true reconciliation was through self-determination. From the statement:

When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish.

And we stand together now as history is made with this bill, establishing an authority that is outside of government to mediate and to achieve that treaty. I would like to acknowledge the work of the former Victorian treaty advancement commissioner, Jill Gallagher AO, and the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group. Very briefly I also want to touch on the fact that there can be no treaty without truth telling, and we must acknowledge the terrible history that colonialism imposed on our people. I want to acknowledge a particularly beautiful soul in my community, Murray Harrison. Murray is a member of the stolen generation. He was taken from his family at the age of 10 in East Gippsland, but Murray is one of the most gentle souls you will ever meet. He is extraordinarily generous in continuing to teach us and to explain to us the terrible, terrible harms that were committed under the Victorian government, and I thank Murray. I thank Murray for his gentle rebukes and his continuing to tell us the stories.

The Yoorrook Justice Commission is the nation’s first truth-telling process, and I hope that it will bring us a long way in being able to create treaty. Today we were asked to walk beside our First People as we work towards treaty. I know it is going to be a long process and through truth telling there will be much pain for everybody, but I am incredibly proud to walk beside our First People as they determine and they shape their future.

This bill is a historic bill. I am incredibly, incredibly proud to be part of a government that has brought the first treaty in Australia, but more than that so incredibly thankful to the commitment of those on the assembly. You know that it is going to be a long and difficult process, and for the commitment that you have made to take us all there I thank you from my heart.

Mr T SMITH (Kew) (15:39): I rise to oppose the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022, and I do so for a number of reasons. I do so because I do not believe that a government, particularly a state government, can enter into treaties with its own citizens. I find the statement ‘Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land’ personally offensive. This land belongs to all Australians, black and white alike, and divisive tokenism like this treaty further perpetuates the undermining of Australia’s unity. I find the phrase ‘Invasion Day’ personally offensive. Victoria, or as it was called then, the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, was not settled by an order of the imperial government. What became Victoria was settled by Australian-born people who had come here to better themselves and their families.

Let us be quite clear: multiple atrocities—massacres—were committed in what was then known as the Port Phillip District of the Colony of New South Wales by individual settlers on the frontiers. The British Parliament was already becoming aware of the criminal activity on the frontiers of New South Wales by European settlers. In 1835 the Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Tribes of the UK Parliament was set up with terms of reference to:

… consider what Measures ought to be adopted with regard to the NATIVE INHABITANTS of Countries where BRITISH SETTLEMENTS are made … in order to secure to them the due observance of Justice and the protection of their Rights …

It was clearly impossible to police the European settlements of Portland and Melbourne from Sydney in the 1830s. Indeed in 1839, responding to a recommendation in the final report of the UK Parliament’s Aborigines select committee, George Robinson was appointed Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Port Phillip District. Did this result in a policy of reserves, dispossession and paternalism? Yes, but we cannot judge the policies of the 1830s, however well meaning, with the reality of the disastrous impact they had on Indigenous Australians with the benefit we now have of 180 years of hindsight. But it remains a historical fact that when Governor Arthur Phillip opened his orders of 25 April 1787, they were quite clear:

You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the—


… and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence.

As Keith Windschuttle wrote:

Soon after British Secretary for Home Affairs, Lord Sydney, appointed him governor of New South Wales in September 1786, Arthur Phillip drew up a detailed memorandum of his plans for the proposed new colony. … he wrote:

The laws of this country [England] will, of course, be introduced in [New] South Wales, and there is one that I would wish to take place from the moment his Majesty’s forces take possession of the country: That there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves.

Phillip also wrote:

Any Man who takes the life of a Native, will be put on his Trial the same as if he had kill’d one of the Garrison. This appears to me not only just but good policy.

At about the same time more and more Europeans were settling in the Port Phillip District, a shocking massacre of Aboriginal Australians occurred at Myall Creek in 1838. In the first trial attempting to bring the murderous settlers to justice Chief Justice Dowling told the all-white jury the law made no distinction in the race of the people who had been murdered. Subsequently seven white settlers were found guilty of murder and were hanged.

I make mention of these historical facts and ask this question: should the people of Victoria, through their government’s proposed treaty, be held responsible for the crimes of individuals 190 years ago given that at least, according to last census, 49.1 per cent of Victorians were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas? On a day like this, if I could paraphrase that great man Nelson Mandela, Australia belongs to all who live in it, black and white alike, and it is fundamentally illiberal to treat any racial group within our society any differently to any other. I am opposed to a treaty because you cannot enter into a treaty with your own fellow citizens.

The path to full citizenship for Aboriginal Australians was long and torturous, but my country, our country, Australia, is, as Tony Abbott rightly described it—and it is a matter of undisputed historical fact—a country with Indigenous heritage, a British foundation and a multicultural character. This country is one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies, which shamefully excluded Indigenous people to begin with but now has more Indigenous MPs in its national Parliament than the proportion of Indigenous people in the Australian population, and for that I think we should all be very, very proud. As the universally respected newly elected Indigenous senator Jacinta Price told me yesterday, this treaty is divisive and will do nothing to stop, for example, the shamefully high levels of youth suicide in Victoria amongst Indigenous communities and will do nothing to close the gap in educational outcomes, health outcomes or the disproportionate number of Aboriginal Australians in the criminal justice system.

I want to say this today because no-one else has. I am proud of my country. I am proud of what we as Australians have achieved together. Australia is not without fault—no country is—but we must strive to build a more united, stronger and more prosperous Australia in the years ahead and teach our children that this country of ours has been a force for good in the world for over a century, that this country of ours is more good than bad and that there is much, much more that unites us than divides us, both black and white alike, as citizens of this great commonwealth of ours. Paying reparations to one group of citizens based on their racial background sets up a profoundly concerning precedent. It is something that I cannot support, and I know a great many Victorians do not support it either.

Ms THEOPHANOUS (Northcote) (15:47): I would like to begin by acknowledging the First People of our state and in particular the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, on which Parliament sits and on which the electorate that I represent sits. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I acknowledge the leaders representing the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, who have honoured us in being here today, as well as all First Nations people who have come today. I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge and honour the local Aboriginal communities in the inner northern region and their strong leadership as well as their critical advocacy over many years to embed First Nations principles and interests into our state.

The inner north, including the electorate of Northcote, has a deep connection with First Nations leadership and advocacy—leaders like William Cooper, Uncle Doug Nicholls, Aunty Marge Tucker, Uncle Bill Onus, Aunty Elizabeth Morgan and Lady Gladys Nicholls. These giants and this history are literally painted in our streetscapes, built into our place names and embedded in the legacy of our local Aboriginal controlled and managed organisations, who continue to support our First Nations communities today—organisations locally like the Aborigines Advancement League, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Yappera Children’s Service, Clothing the Gaps, Elizabeth Morgan House and Lady Gladys Nicholls Hostel—organisations deeply, deeply embedded in the inner north, of which we are very proud. In Thornbury, at the home of the Fitzroy Stars Football and Netball Club, we will soon see Australia’s first dedicated Aboriginal women and girls’ sport and wellness centre. This will be a safe and welcoming space created to support the health, wellbeing and empowerment of First Nations women.

I know that as I rise today to speak in support of the Victorian Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 my wonderful, diverse community stand with me. They stand with me in reflecting on and acknowledging the truth of our state’s past—the truth of the injustices, the violence, the trauma and the pain that colonialism has wrought on generations of Aboriginal people—and they stand with me in honouring the momentous milestone we have reached today, because this is a momentous occasion. In 2017 our First Nations communities came together in the shadow of Uluru to speak with one voice, and we were offered an invitation to walk together for a better future. Here in Victoria we listened, we took action, and we did it in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal community. Victoria is now the first and only jurisdiction in Australia to action both the treaty and truth elements of the Uluru statement. The actions that we have taken together will create a legacy and a precedent that will help shape treaty negotiations across the country. But what makes our treaty process unique is not just that we are doing things first but that we are doing things differently. We know that treaty is unfinished business. It is an opportunity to come to terms with our past and work together for a shared future.

Yet to move forward in trust and truth and partnership we need new institutions and new ways of doing things. Our Western structures are just not fit for purpose in putting self-determination and the oldest continuous culture, traditions and stories at the heart of a treaty process. That is why this bill is so important. The Treaty Authority established by this bill is the first of its kind in Australia, and it is based on a model created for and by First Nations Victorians through the First Peoples’ Assembly. We heard in this house from co-chairs Marcus Stewart and Aunty Geri Atkinson about exactly why this authority, created in this way, matters. We heard Aunty Geri say:

Our community knows what is best for our community. It is essential that First Peoples lead this journey—essential because it is both the morally right approach and the most effective approach in achieving the best results.

This is self-determination in action. It is an acknowledgement that treaty must be done on First Nations terms. The Treaty Authority is innovative, it is legally novel and it is designed to most effectively and fairly oversee negotiations in Victoria’s context. When established it will be a truly independent umpire to oversee negotiations between the government and Aboriginal Victorians. It will sit outside of our usual government structures—it will not report to a minister—and it will be founded in the understanding that a path forward and the building blocks of treaty must uphold Aboriginal lore, law and cultural authority. The Treaty Authority reflects this government’s willingness to come to the treaty process with open minds and open hearts, to walk side by side into a shared and profoundly changed future. It is a future that must go beyond the beams of light that Marcus referenced in his speech. Beams of light are not enough to dispel the shadow of colonialism and colonisation.

Treaty is an opportunity to forever change how we understand our identity, our history and our future. It should not be feared. It should not be undermined. Treaty is about our First Peoples having the structures, freedom and power to make decisions for their own communities, their culture and their country. This is empowering for every one of us. It is empowering for our state, but most importantly it is empowering for Aboriginal Victorians. We have so much to learn from our First Nations brothers and sisters, so much to reflect on, so much to celebrate and so much to build together. Treaty is more than an agreement; treaty is a coming together, a healing and an invitation to work together on a new way of doing things, a way that gives recognition to the part Aboriginal people play in our history and in our future.

She is not with us here today, but I do want to read out the words of Aunty Esme Bamblett, who represents the Metropolitan Region in the First Peoples’ Assembly and who I have had the honour of becoming close friends with over the years. In her words:

I believe in Treaty because it goes somewhere towards returning to the rightful owners of Country the rights that have been denied us since colonisation …

My ancestors would be so pleased that we finally have recognition of our rights as Traditional Owners and I want to do as much as I can to make the most of this opportunity.

This is a time when our culture can be given the recognition it deserves in this State.

We want to maintain our culture, strengthen the identity of our children, raise the profile of our culture, and ensure that we have a say over our countries.

She also said:

The Treaty will reinforce our status as Traditional Owners of our Country, it will give us a voice at the table and resources for us to assist our community members in need of support to reach their destiny …

Every Victorian should be proud of the progress we have made towards treaty, truth, justice and self-determination for Aboriginal Victorians.

While I am relieved to see that this bill will be met with bipartisan support today, I remain wary in the knowledge that this has not always been the case. We have heard loud and clear in this chamber what the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria have to say about the creation of a treaty authority. There is no excuse for not listening—no excuse. Now is the time for unity, now is the time to listen, now is the time to act.

Of course alongside the treaty process the Victorian Labor government and the assembly have worked in partnership to develop the Yoorrook Justice Commission. This is Australia’s first truth-telling process into systemic injustices experienced by Aboriginal people since colonisation. I mention this because there can be no treaty without truth telling, without acknowledging ongoing experiences of racism, discrimination, systemic barriers to opportunity and harm First Nations Victorians continue to face. We must acknowledge this truth and reaffirm our commitment to do better. We must continue to take real action—actions like our stolen generations reparations package, better support for Aboriginal health and wellbeing and stronger investments in Victoria’s world-class cultural heritage protections and First Nations infrastructure, education, workforce development and youth justice.

Every Victorian should be proud of the progress we have made towards treaty. Together we are making real change, delivering a better future in which we walk side by side in trust, in truth and in respect. I want to acknowledge the work over many years of both the current and former ministers for Aboriginal affairs; every member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, including its co-chairs; Jill Gallagher for her work as the treaty advancement commissioner; and all the advocates and allies who have used their voices and their actions to elevate this cause and get us to where we are today. This is a historic day in our Parliament. I am honoured to commend this bill to the house.

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) (15:57): There are some things that are above politics, and this important bill that is before us today is one of those. I want to put on record firstly the support that the Liberals and Nationals have for what is a very important bill and a history-making occasion—the fact that we saw our First Nations people come before the house today, our co-chairs Aunty Geraldine and Marcus Stewart and the committee, and make history and start that very important conversation of being able to right the wrongs of the past.

There were a number of things from today that resonated very strongly with me, particularly when Aunty Geraldine mentioned about being on the right side of history. What we will do today will affect generations to come. We talk a lot about the wrongs of the past. We have had also a history-making time talking about a ban on the evil swastika, which I will talk about in correlation, particularly where we had a situation with William Cooper, who actually led the charge, going effectively to the German consulate at the time of the First World War to protest against that evil. There is a huge synergy between the Jewish community and the Aboriginal community, a strong sharing of knowledge, of compassion, of injustice and, certainly in my community and certainly with a number of my leaders, of working together to right those wrongs of the past.

This is really important, what we are doing today, but it needs to be more than talk; it needs to be action. It should be all about working together and not dividing one another. As the Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said today, this is not about fighting one another but it should be about working together. That is why I am proud that the Liberal-Nationals are standing together with the government and supporting this very important bill, because we should, because it is right and because we need to do whatever we can to right those wrongs of the past and ensure that our First Nations people are supported and encouraged.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.