Treat Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 – Second Reading Debate

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (18:48): I am honoured today to speak in support of the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 and to be one of the very last speakers on this very historic day. I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Parliament is built, the Wurundjeri people, pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging and extend those respects to the Aboriginal people who are here with us today and those who were with us earlier.

I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land of the district of Wendouree, the electorate I have the honour to represent in this place, the Wadawurrung people, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge the Ballarat Aboriginal community, many of whom were forcibly removed from country all over Victoria and interstate during the stolen generation decades and were brought to Ballarat. They chose to stay and make Ballarat their home and together have created the thriving Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative to benefit all Aboriginal people living in and around Ballarat.

I also want to recognise the integral involvement of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria in the ongoing treaty process as well as the work of the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group in establishing the Assembly as the democratically elected Aboriginal Representative Body.

I thank the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, her ministerial office and the department for the work they have done to bring this bill to the house as well as acknowledge the work of previous Labor ministers for Aboriginal affairs, the member for Sydenham and Gavin Jennings, as well as the Premier for his strong support for treaty and truth telling.

It was a special moment earlier today when the significant contribution of the former Victorian treaty advancement commissioner, Jill Gallagher AO, was acknowledged by the co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and by the whole Parliament by applause. Thank you for your strength and leadership, Jill.

It is a privilege to be in the Parliament on such a significant day for our state and hear the co-chairs and be with the members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. Thank you to Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and to Marcus Stewart, who is still here—thank you for being here, Marcus—for your wise and powerful words about what needs to be done for self-determination and how we can move forward together.

The bill before this house today represents advancing progress in the treaty process, with the state of Victoria continuing to work in partnership with traditional owners and Aboriginal Victorians.

As we know, the Victorian government agreed in 2016 to undertake a treaty process in partnership with Aboriginal Victorians. This historic commitment was followed by the 2018 passage of the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018, referred to as the treaty act, which sets out three elements necessary for future treaty negotiations, these being the Treaty Authority, the treaty negotiation framework and the Self-Determination Fund.

The first element, the Treaty Authority, has just this month been established through an agreement between the state and the First Peoples’ Assembly, and it forms the focus of the bill before the house today. It is the first of its kind in this country.

Based upon the innovative model proposed by the First Peoples’ Assembly, the Treaty Authority will fairly and effectively oversee treaty negotiations as well as administer the treaty negotiations framework, provide for dispute resolution and carry out supporting research with respect for Aboriginal law, lore and cultural authority. The Treaty Authority crucially provides the treaty process with a truly independent umpire to facilitate negotiations and build positive partnerships. As such, its internal governance processes are prescribed by the Treaty Authority Agreement, not by the bill before the house today.

The Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 instead seeks to recognise and facilitate the new established Treaty Authority. The bill confers upon the Authority the various legal powers and capacities necessary to fulfil its role. Given its unique and novel legal form, the Authority will be empowered to operate similarly to a body corporate, with the power to enter into agreements to acquire, hold and dispose of property and sue and be sued, as well as the ability to participate in the formation of a company, trust or other body, and to be a member, hold shares and act as a trustee. The Authority will have perpetual succession, and to ensure the legal force of its activities it will be empowered to function outside of Victoria. The bill will also protect the authority members and employees from personal liability.

Ongoing secure and independent funding for the Authority’s operation is provided for as well, via appropriations from the Consolidated Fund. Together these provisions endow the recently established Treaty Authority with the powers and status necessary to operate independently and to fulfil its essential role in the treaty process.

The bill will also amend the 2018 treaty act to allow for the establishment of the treaty negotiation framework and the Self-Determination Fund. Following the Treaty Authority, these are the remaining two elements required to support substantive treaty negotiations, and both are currently being negotiated between the state and the Assembly.

The amendments in question ensure that the Aboriginal representative body, the position fulfilled by the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, may enter into treaty negotiations. They also provide for greater flexibility for how the Self-Determination Fund may be administered, allowing greater separation between political and administrative funds.

The bill serves an important function with the advancing treaty process, which is currently in the second of three stages. The state and the First Peoples’ Assembly are working to establish the necessary elements to support treaty negotiations, including the Treaty Authority that we are discussing today. This stage is expected to conclude this year, with treaty negotiations themselves to begin in 2023.

The treaty process is nation-leading work, seeking to create a stronger and fairer Victoria. I am incredibly proud of the progress that has been made so far, and I am additionally proud to be here today as we take another step on the pathway towards treaty.

The Andrews Labor government’s more than $218 million investment in Victoria’s treaty process forms part of almost $1.6 billion committed since 2014 for initiatives supporting Aboriginal Victorians. We have seen $58 million in funding for the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Australia’s first truth-telling process into systematic injustices experienced by Aboriginal people, both historical and ongoing. The commission’s hearings have begun, and its final report is expected in mid-2024. Through the treaty process and the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction to have actioned both the treaty and truth components of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Within my electorate of Wendouree we are working to realise self-determination locally. The Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative was established by members of the Ballarat and district Aboriginal community in 1979 and is led by the extraordinary BADAC CEO, Karen Heap, and chief operating officer, Jon Kanoa, and an incredible workforce who deliver health, social, welfare and community development programs to local Aboriginal people.

I would also like to acknowledge the culturally strong and grounded leadership of the BADAC board of directors, who are voted in annually by the members of the cooperative: chair Larry Kanoa, vice-chair Ian Petty, treasurer Marjorie Pickford and also Deb Callister, Peter Lovett and Pauline Scott.

BADAC is the Aboriginal community controlled organisation, ACCO, for the Ballarat and district area, covering four local government areas, including the City of Ballarat. I was proud to join with the Minister for Regional Development earlier this year to announce $2.6 million for the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative to develop a culturally safe independent living community for local Aboriginal elders. BADAC has played a crucial role in my community for more than 40 years, and its history has recently been captured in an online project supported by a local history grant from our government.

Recently I was honoured to attend the opening, with the Minister for Early Childhood and members of the local Aboriginal community, of the Yirram Burron centre in Sebastopol. ‘Yirram burron’ means ‘morning child’, and this new early learning centre is an Aboriginal-led and community-owned kindergarten with an emphasis on culture, education and community.

Further, the Andrews Labor government has provided the Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation $150 000 to upgrade its offices in Ballarat’s Mair Street through the Aboriginal community infrastructure program.

The Andrews Labor government supports improved outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. We are united in our support for reconciliation, self-determination and treaty. Today is a historic day for Victoria, and I could not be prouder to be here supporting the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022.

I commend the bill to the house.

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