A major step towards treaty in Victorian parliament promotes self-determination as more achievable for Indigenous peoples, an elder at the treaty frontline says.
The Treaty Authority Bill, introduced to parliament on Tuesday, allows for an independent body to oversee that treaty negotiations be grounded in First Nations' culture, lore and law.
Establishing an independent umpire, sitting outside government bureaucracy, has been a key goal for the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria along with forming treaty negotiation framework.
Victorian south-west elected representative Uncle Michael "Mookeye" Bell, a Gunditjmara man, said this step was about putting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the "driver's seat" to self-determination and empowerment.
At the same time, Uncle Michael said ensuring a strong voice was also about building up great work from past traditional owners and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in working with government.
"It's not about undoing but recognising gaps and filling them for the future," Uncle Michael said.
"People have a better understanding now because they can see the structure and framework and how we've negotiated that. People feel more empowered in how their groups and clans can move forward with that and see how treaty can support clans and groups."
The treaty authority will also sit separate to the assembly but will be formed of First Nations peoples to operate in a way that reflects Victoria's Indigenous communities.
While a treaty authority is part of an agreement between the state government and First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, it must be legislated to set up and provide funds. This is why Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams was to take the bill to parliament on Tuesday.
Victoria is the first Australian state to pursue a treaty with Indigenous peoples.
The First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria formed in 2019 with regional elected representatives and members from recognised traditional owner bodies.
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The Assembly has determined to create framework to support a statewide treaty and localised treaties with traditional owner groups across the state. Treaties might be used in varying areas of recognition, such as historic sovereignty, sacred sites, place names, historic wrongs, apologies, land rights and management and progressing relationships.
This latest Bill comes in the wake of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's pledge for the nation to adopt the 2017 Uluru Statement of the Heart, co-written by Indigenous peoples across the nation and focusing on three key objectives: a voice to parliament, treaty and truth.
"The Uluru statement is very much the start of what we're doing at the front now and things to consider in what we do in our job as First People's Assembly in developing negotiation framework," Uncle Bell said.
First People's Assembly of Victoria co-chairman Marcus Stewart said the process was "decolonisation in action" with the government allowing Indigenous peoples to go about treaty their own way.
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