Aunty Geraldine Atkinson’s handover speech

Jul 26, 2023

The outgoing First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria co-chair addresses the new Assembly Members at their inaugural meeting, held in Parliament House.

Aunty Geraldine Atkinson’s handover speech

Good morning everyone.  

Isn’t this something! To be here together in a building that in many ways is the belly of the beast that terrorised our people for all too long.  

Where laws and policies about us, were made without us, and imposed on us, against our will, and at great cost to our people. 

Yet here we are today claiming it, not just making it yield, but reshaping it – negotiating into existence a better way of doing things; ensuring that our inherent rights as First Peoples are always respected and we have a rightful home in Victoria’s democracy. 

Ensuring that our people will never again be denied the ability to choose our own path. That we will always be able to make the decisions about our communities, our culture and our Country. 

This was – and always will be – Aboriginal land. 

My name is Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, I am a proud Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman. 

I want to acknowledge we are gathering today on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people and I pay my respects to Wurundjeri Elders past and present, and any Wurundjeri mob who are here. 

It’s been an honour to serve as co-chair of the Assembly. I will treasure the experience of working together with everyone.  

I must make a particular thanks to Marcus Stewart. Marcus, you have been a great co-chair. You’ve been a strong leader for the Assembly and deadly to work with. Thank you.  

All things considered, I think we’ve done pretty well. 

Today, Marcus and I are here to pass the message stick on to the next co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. 

It feels surreal to be back in Victorian Parliament where we held our very first Meeting of the Assembly. I’m sure the returning members among us feel the same. 

When we first sat here, almost four years ago, Treaty felt like a distant dream – we knew it was possible, but we had no clear path to walk along. 

For too long, us Aboriginal people have had laws and policies forced on us by governments that don’t really understand us or worse, don’t respect us or our culture.   

But when we sat here, as the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, mob in Victoria finally had a voice.  

We had a representative, collective and democratic body made up of Traditional Owners. Folks who understood us, our needs, and our aspirations, because they are us. 

There were no promises and no guarantees – but, behind us, we had the collective resilience and determination of the countless champions and activists that came before our time.  

It is because of them that we could sit in Parliament that day and today – it has been an honour to continue what they started.  

The inaugural Assembly has laid the foundations for Treaty-making, but what happens next is up to you. 

Take this message stick, uphold our culture, rejuvenate our practices, and do all mob proud.  

What you do with the next four years is going to shape the future of First Peoples here for generations to come. 

Ours is the oldest living culture in the world, yet it’s the fate of our grandchildren and their children that I am thinking about today. 

We know our community best, we have the solutions to our challenges – we just want the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country. 

To the credit of the Victorian Government, I do believe that they truly understand and recognise that if governments want to get serious about improving the lives of Aboriginal people, they need to listen to Aboriginal people. 

That’s why it’s so important we have the Assembly to be a strong Voice for our people. 

And that’s why our people need a Treaty – so the decision-making power can be placed back into Aboriginal hands. 

I want to thank the Premier, Daniel Andrews, and the Minister, Gabrielle Williams, for their willingness to embark on this journey.  

I’m sure there will be a few more disagreements along the way, but in my experience they have always approached the hard conversations in good faith. 

I believe the leadership they have shown for their people on this journey will be remembered fondly by the history books. 

I think they and their colleagues, and increasingly more and more politicians at a national level, are coming to recognise a simple fact: that laws and policies that affect Aboriginal people are always going to deliver better results when Aboriginal people have crafted those laws and policies. 

That’s why we’re finally seeing progress on topics like Voice, Treaty and Truth. 

To me, the upcoming referendum boils down to one question: does Australia think Aboriginal people should have a say about the decisions that affect Aboriginal people? 

That’s why the Assembly decided to support the YES vote. We’re making such good progress on Voice, Treaty and Truth here in Victoria and we owe it to mob in other states to lend a hand. 

You fellas have a very big and exciting journey ahead of you. The decisions you make will reverberate down through history.  

There will be challenges to overcome, but you will overcome them together.  

You may not always agree, in fact I can guarantee there will be times when you don’t. Nevertheless, remember you are all here for the same reason: to get Treaty done.  

I’m confident you’ll do mob proud. 

While I am passing the message stick today, I will continue to walk with you on the journey to Treaty – I can’t wait to see where it leads. 

Thank you so much. 

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