Bipartisan Support for Victorian Treaty Bill

A bill to establish an Indigenous treaty authority in Victoria will have bipartisan support. The Victorian Opposition confirmed on Tuesday they would support the Andrews government in creating an independent body to oversee negotiations between the state and First Nations people.

The Coalition’s support was confirmed by both Nationals leader and Indigenous affairs spokesman Peter Walsh, and Opposition leader Matthew Guy this week.

“The Liberals and Nationals are committed to advancing the treaty process in Victoria in a way that supports self-determination and reconciliation while strengthening community and connection to Country,” said Walsh. Nonetheless, he still urged the government to redouble efforts to close the gap in other areas, like health, housing, incarceration and education.

“Reconciliation is a topic that should be around uniting Australians,” said Matthew Guy, “that’s why this is an important step to acknowledge that.”

The bill will establish an independent body to oversee treaties between the state government and Indigenous communities. The group will have legal powers to facilitate negotiations and resolve disputes, and will sit outside government bureaucracy. It won’t be required to report to any government minister.

The members of the treaty authority will be appointed by an independent panel, which itself will be agreed upon by the government and assembly. All members will be First Nations people.

The vast majority of ministers from all parties supported the bill, but it did face some limited opposition. The Age reported four MPs had expressed concern about establishing a Treaty Authority, including Liberal MP Tim Smith.

Smith called the motion “illiberal and divisive tokenism,” saying that he would “be crossing the floor” to vote against the legislation. One fellow Liberal said “Crossing the floor would require Tim to attend parliament, and that would be an unusual circumstance – he just never turns up.″

Smith will be quitting politics in November this year, after a dangerous incident last year, in which he crashed his car outside an eight-year-old’s bedroom, driving at more than twice the legal alcohol limit.

In 2016, the Victorian government took a historic step in First Nations relations by establishing the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group. And two years later, they passed the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act. The Act enshrined in law the establishment of a framework to negotiate a treaty through the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria has since created the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission – Australia’s first formal truth-telling process for injustices experienced by Indigenous people. Many say the Albanese government should look to the Yoo-rrook Commission in its plans to make good on Labor’s promise to fulfil the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Now, the upcoming treaty authority bill makes Victoria the first and only Australian jurisdiction to have enacted both Treaty and Truth elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria co-chair Marcus Stewart, a Nira illim bulluk man, expressed his approval of this week’s events. “This is about stepping outside of the colonial system. We’ve said to government, if you’re serious about treaty, you’ll do it our way, and to their credit, that’s what they’re doing. This is decolonisation in action.”

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