April Treaty Forum Working Group response

Open letter from the Aboriginal Treaty Interim Working Group to the Aboriginal community following the Victorian Treaty Forum on 28 April 2017

We would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather.

We would like to pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging - for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal people across the nation. We would also like to extend our respect to all the people that have committed their lives, time, knowledge and passion over the years to advance the cause towards treaty.

This has been a battle since colonisation began and those alive today stand on the shoulders of warriors past that have helped continually fight for our rights to self-determination.

What we are doing now continues this fight and is as much about those yet to come as it is about those who are here now.

The Aboriginal Treaty Interim Working Group (the Working Group) was tasked with the role of helping to shape the early steps towards treaty. The Working Group’s role is not to negotiate treaty, nor is it to set up what a treaty negotiation framework should look like between government and the Aboriginal community.

The Working Group’s role is to consult the Aboriginal community on what it would like to see in a representative structure so the government has an equal partner to work with on the pathway to treaty.

Since the Premier agreed to enter into the treaty process in February 2016, there has been lots of consultation and engagement reaching up to 7,500 people directly and hundreds of thousands more through conversations amongst family, friends and across digital media.

The consultation and engagement towards the end of 2016 was about asking the Aboriginal community what sort of principles they wanted in their representative structure and what sort of roles and functions they’d like it have.

In terms of principles, there were lots of things that came back that are detailed in the December 2016 report on the consultations (see below) with the overarching principle being that the representative structure should be democratic and independent from government so that the Aboriginal community can pick its own team and not have it picked by government. This has never happened before.

In terms of roles and functions, again there were lots of things that came back which can be read about in the report. However the overarching principle was that the representative structure is to authorise treaty/treaties.

The consultation and engagement from the first part of this year has recently concluded and we have professional services firm Ernst & Young busily preparing the public report for community to show the detailed results of this round of consultations, the reasoning behind why a company limited by guarantee was chosen by the Working Group and what work remains in finalising the representative structure.

The Working Group acknowledges that having this information available for the Victorian Treaty Forum on 28 April 2017 would have been ideal and helped community understand the detailed logic behind the decision with much more clarity, which the report certainly will when complete.

With the Victorian elections in 2018 fast approaching, it’s important that as a community we capture this opportunity. This is the first time in the history of Australia that any government, at any level, and of any persuasion, has committed to a process towards treaty. It is a time we cannot waste.

With this is mind, we need to get the foundations laid for a representative structure which is enshrined in legislation. This is so, regardless of what happens at the polls next year, we are in a position to build upon the pathway to treaty with a representative group chosen by the Aboriginal community - not government.

The Working Group would love nothing more than to be able to detail for the Aboriginal community with absolute certainty all the remaining steps towards treaty. However, as it is an evolving process we simply can’t do this.

The Working Group’s task is to ensure a representative structure is developed that represents the wishes of the community that have come through the consultation and engagement process.

In terms of next steps, there will be a public report from Ernst & Young with a detailed analysis of the results from this round of community consultations and engagement along with the rationale of why a company limited by guarantee was chosen by the Working Group as the preferred legal structure over all other models.

The Working Group are currently finalising the details for the Community Assembly (the Assembly) that was announced at the state-wide forum but largely its job will be to provide recommendations back to the Working Group on the final elements on the representative structure so it can be presented to the government and established.

The Working Group is aiming to have the terms of reference for the Assembly finalised this June so the expression of interest process can start with the Assembly running across the second half of 2017. This will mean that any Aboriginal Victorian will, once again, have the chance to have their voice heard.

The Working Group acknowledges it has asked a lot of the Aboriginal community in a short space of time. For giving your time, knowledge and passion we thank you, as it has ensured, and will continue to ensure, that the representative structure we end up with as a community will be truly representative. Once we have a representative structure its then that the exciting work starts of working out a process for Treaty negotiations.

In closing, the Working Group would like to highlight for the broader Aboriginal community that this has not been an easy process for traditional owners, with much discussion and debate across this whole process reflecting the diversity of our community. We believe that as a community our culture and connection to country will forever belong to us and will never be extinguished. We are committed to ensuring the diversity of our shared community is central to the treaty process

Aboriginal Treaty Interim Working Group

EY_Report_on_Community_Consultations_with_Aboriginal_Communities_on_Representative_Structures_-_Accessible.docx December 2016 report on the consultationsDOC (5.58 MB)