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Aunty Geraldine Atkinson’s Speech to Parliament on the Treaty Authority

Jun 22, 2022

Today the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-chairs addressed Parliament regarding bipartisan support for creating a Treaty ‘umpire’ that is led by First Peoples and grounded in culture, lore and law.

Aunty Geraldine Atkinson speech to Parliament

Hello everyone, my name is Geraldine Atkinson. Those who know me call me Aunty Geri and I hope I get a chance to meet all of you.

I would like to acknowledge Country, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded in this land.

I specifically acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which this Parliament House sits – the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people.

I am a proud Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman, I’m from the north-east of what is now known as Victoria, Country that flanks the Goulburn and Murray rivers.

In my language, I say, Galya Yawa Wuta, Nyuwanda gaka yapaneyepuk muma girrandjamik burraya, wuta nyuwandan yenbena barrpirrik.

This means, ‘Good morning everyone, We come together here today from near and far, for the future of all of our people’.

I do love opportunities to share my language and I love seeing the increasing willingness of people, communities, and institutions right across Victoria to embrace and celebrate our culture.

In many ways, the agreement we’ve reached with the Government to create a Treaty Authority led by First Peoples’ and grounded in our culture goes to the heart of this dynamic.

It recognises that the journey to Treaty isn’t only about the destination, but that how we get there is vitally important.

Our community knows what’s best for our community. It’s essential that First Peoples’ lead this journey – essential because it’s both the morally right approach and the most effective approach in achieving the best results.

But the journey also presents many opportunities for everyone to learn from and share in the strength and wisdom of the oldest living culture in the world.

Marcus and I are so proud to be here with you today to talk about the Treaty Authority – a vital piece of the architecture that will help us all get Treaty done.

We’re here representing the democratic voice for our people – the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. And we’re here to present to you, the democratic voice of the State of Victoria.

It’s remarkable when you think about it like that. Although a huge power imbalance remains, my people – the First Peoples, now have a voice and the means to communicate with, to negotiate with, to create with, this institution.

Sovereign power to sovereign power.

Many people have worked hard to make this a reality, but I want to take a moment to give a particular thanks to Gunditjmara woman, Jill Gallagher AO, who I believe is with us today.

Jill’s patience and steady guidance in bringing form to the First Peoples’ Assembly as the Treaty Advancement Commissioner is something everyone in Victoria should be grateful for.

Thank you Jill. I hope you are as pleased as I am to see such tangible steps being taken towards Treaty – this Treaty Authority agreement being a prime example.

There’s no escaping the harsh reality that Aboriginal people have suffered immensely at the hands of the Victorian State.

We were driven from our lands; murdered; herded into reserves; torn apart from our families. We’ve been unfairly targeted and discriminated against for generations – with the disadvantage and injustice compounding over the years.

But we survived.

We survived the concerted attempts to eradicate us and our culture.

It should be of no surprise that many of our people find it hard to place any trust in Parliament or have faith in Government systems.

Indeed, all too often, these are still the sources of ongoing injustices.

That needs to change and Treaty is way we can change it.

I want Treaty to restore the ability of my people to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country. An ability to do things our way.

This is why it is so important that the Treaty Authority is led by First Peoples and grounded in our culture, lore and law.

The Treaty Authority will support Treaty-making in Victoria between the First Peoples of Victoria and the state government.

It will also be the independent ‘umpire’ to help resolve disputes between our nation groups. It will do this our way.

This is not something that any colonial system can do for us. We determine who we are, who represents us, where our Country is.

We’ve asked for the Treaty Authority to sit outside of the usual government system.

It won’t report to a Minister that sits in this Parliament.

Its funding will be insulated from the whims of the usual political cycles.

I understand that this is different, but it needs to be.

Treaty needs to be done on our terms. Our people need to have faith in the path forward.

Our lore and law have stood the test of time, and I’m proud to see thousands of years of knowledge, wisdom and resilience of our people being embedded into the public institutions we are creating on the journey to Treaty.

Western court systems are combative by default, whereas the Treaty Authority will respect our culture – the starting point will always be dialogue.

Our culture has been practiced for countless generations. And I want it to be practiced here for countless more generations.

You each have a part to play here in ensuring this can happen.

I ask you all to walk with us on the journey. I ask that you give the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 your blessings and play your part in making history.

Don’t look back on this moment in years to come to see yourself on the wrong side of history.

Instead, step into this moment and have the courage to help create change. To relinquish a fraction of power so the Treaty umpire can be truly independent from Government.

In passing this Bill, the members of this parliament have an opportunity to facilitate the creation of the first permanent piece of architecture for Treaty making.

This is a positive step. And I believe it’s a step best taken together – all of us.

What a message that will send to everyone – a consensus vote, all sides of politics coming together to get us closer to Treaty in Victoria.

I’ll now hand over to Marcus to say his piece.

Thanks for listening.