Victorian government and First Peoples’ Assembly to begin ‘momentous’ treaty negotiations | Indigenous Australians

In a historic milestone, the Victorian government will meet with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria for the first time on Monday to officially begin treaty negotiations.

“It’s a significant, kind of momentous, point in time,” said the Taungurung assembly co-chair, Marcus Stewart.

“To be at this point in time right now, to kick off the formal negotiations with the state government and start looking at what our communities have long called for when we’ve marched out on the streets, to start thinking about and discussing what that can look like … It’s the first time we will sit opposite government in this whole and newly shaped relationship.”

This first meeting, which will be held over video conference due to Covid-19 restrictions, will aim to establish a framework for further discussions with government, rather than negotiating the actual content of any future treaties.

“We’re not clear on how long these negotiations will go on … we have to ensure that we bring the Aboriginal community along on this journey because they’re the ones that will help shape and define what the architecture of treaty will be,” Stewart said.

“I mean, you kind of pinch yourself right now … We’ve never seen this before. It’s never been something so tangible that you can feel you can reach it. So I think it’s a significant point in time.”

There have been campaigns for a treaty in Victoria since the 19th century. The Andrews government committed to the process in February 2016 after a meeting of land councils rejected a symbolic approach to recognising Aboriginal Victorians in the state constitution.

After this, the Treaty Advancement Commission was created, which eventually led to the formation of the First Peoples’ Assembly, which met for the first time late last year.

In the lead-up to Monday’s meeting with state government, the assembly conducted seven months of community consultations.

This session will aim to outline timelines for negotiations, establish a dispute resolution process and identify how the parties will work together for all future treaty negotiations.

Victoria is the first state in Australia to begin these proceedings and Stewart said Monday’s discussions will lay the groundwork for the rest of the country.

“We’ve got the eyes of the nation on us,” he said. “We’ve got the eyes of our communities on us and we’re setting the pace and the tone for how we believe these negotiations should go.

“It’s an opportunity now for the commonwealth to demonstrate leadership and start a national treaty journey for all First Nations people across this country.”

These treaty meetings will run parallel to the establishments of a “truth and justice process” to formally recognise historical and ongoing injustices against Aboriginal people in Victoria.

Announced on 11 July, Victoria is the first state or territory to undertake such a commission, which is also being designed and led by the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

“We’ve always been clear that there can’t be treaty without truth,” Stewart said.

With additional reporting by Calla Wahlquist.