By Jill Gallagher, Treaty Advancement Commissioner
Do you know how many of our people vote in elections?
I bet you are thinking ‘not many’. For years and years, we have had no reason to trust governments which promised plenty and haven’t delivered.
Given everything, it’s not surprising that our mob are much less likely to vote.
That has changed very recently in Victoria.
That’s because our Communities have voted in our own process.
It has nothing to do with government, and everything to do with a future in which our rights and our cultures are respected in these lands.
Over 3,000 Aboriginal community members enrolled for the First Peoples’ Assembly election, and over 2000 votes were cast for Traditional Owners across the state. Further, hundreds of members of Traditional Owner groups are participating in their own processes to self-determine representatives for their guaranteed seats.
That is all despite the barriers that stop our people participating – like the over-representation in the justice, out of home care, and mental health systems.
Earlier this week, we announced the provisionally elected candidates. If you haven’t already, take a look and find out who they are. (Link to http://victreatyadvancement.org.au/news/results-first-peoples-assembly-victoria-election)
It is a strong and diverse group of Aboriginal people. They will do us proud.
Some Assembly members have been CEOs and leaders for decades. They will work alongside some of our strong emerging young leaders – with 3 elected members aged in their 20s.
It is history in the making, and it will lead to huge structural change for our people.
This vote is full of the stories of our community doing extraordinary things.
Like the man in prison who refused to be part of it, until he realised it was not a government process, but rather something owned by us, our Communities.
Or the 16 year old girl in suburban Melbourne – her first vote is in our election.
Or the Uncle who was awfully sick but got himself out to the Aboriginal Co-Op to cast his vote, because he was so proud to vote for his own people.
These Community members are not well known. They would probably find it strange that I am telling you about them.
But in their own quiet way, they are part of the loudest, strongest voice our people have known.
I am proud that so many of our people put their hand up to be part of this.
Internationally, this is comparable to the first ever vote to set up the Sami Parliament of Norway in the late 1980s.
This is regarded as one of the most robust and powerful Indigenous representative bodies globally, so these sorts of numbers mean that I’m confident the Assembly will get off to a great start, and only get stronger in decades to come.
The Assembly will play a huge role as the Treaties process moves forward – its biggest job will involve the framework for negotiations, which will set out how Treaties can be agreed.
Assembly members are preparing for the inaugural meeting at Victoria’s Parliament House on 10 and 11 December 2019. The meeting will be streamed online for the world to see.
The Assembly will be the voice for Aboriginal people in the next phase of the Treaty process.
It will represent communities in setting – along with government – the ‘ground rules’ for negotiations, including how Treaties can be agreed in Victoria. It will also help set up the Treaty Authority, which will be an independent umpire through the Treaty process.
The Assembly is made up of 32 seats – 21 determined in a vote of Aboriginal communities in September and October, and 11 reserved for of the 11 formally recognised Traditional Owner groups.
The Treaty Advancement Commission was set up to establish the Assembly. When the Assembly is established, the Commission will cease to exist.