First Peoples Assembly welcomes appointment of Treaty Umpires

Dec 5, 2023

The First Peoples’ Assembly has welcomed the announcement of the five inaugural members of the Treaty Authority who will effectively serve as the independent ‘umpires’ during upcoming Treaty negotiations in Victoria.

The historic appointments were recommended by an independent panel following a rigorous and competitive selection process and were officially announced today at an event in Melbourne attended by the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-chairs, Ngarra Murray and Rueben Berg, and the Minister for Treaty and First Peoples, Natalie Hutchins.

All five Treaty Authority Members are First Peoples and bring diverse expertise, skills and experience to their new roles:

  • Dr Petah Atkinson is a Yorta Yorta woman and health researcher with an extensive background in the Aboriginal health sector, who brings highly valued expertise from her cultural safety work in academia and on-the-ground experience working with community.
  • Thelma Austin is a Gunditjmara woman with experience as a cultural advisor and manager in the corporate and legal sectors with expertise as a communicator and a strong commitment to integrity and understanding of cultural nuance.
  • Jidah Clark is a Djab Wurrung man and lawyer with strong policy expertise, having worked for over a decade across the private, public and community sectors in youth justice, and community and policy development, who brings a steadfast dedication to Indigenous rights and cultural resurgence.
  • Andrew Jackomos PSM is a Yorta Yorta man with decades of government expertise, including time as the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children, extensive experience with First Nations organisations and strong relationships with leaders across Victoria.
  • Duean White is a Biripi woman with corporate, government and not-for-profit experience, whose legal expertise, cultural sensitivity and dispute resolution experience will be invaluable to the Treaty Authority.

The Treaty Authority comprises First Peoples Members and is the first body of its kind in Australia. It will observe and uphold Aboriginal Lore, Law and cultural authority and ensure Victoria’s Treaty process is fair for all parties involved.

The appointment of the Treaty Authority Members is a historic moment for the State on the journey to building renewed and strengthened relationships between First Peoples, the Victorian Government and all other Victorians through Treaty-making.

The independent selection panel comprised distinguished Aboriginal leaders, Karinda Taylor, Aunty Vicki Clark OAM, Eddie Cubillo, Marcus Clarke and former Victorian Government Minister Richard Wynne.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the Victorian Government thanks the panel for their exhaustive work and invaluable insight and leadership in conducting the appointment process.

With today’s appointments to the Treaty Authority, Treaty negotiations are expected to begin in 2024.

Quotes attributable to First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-Chair Ngarra Murray:

“The Treaty Authority is the first of its kind and a cultural institution that will be grounded in our culture, Lore and law and will facilitate Treaty-making. Members of the Treaty Authority are respected figures of our communities who will have the responsibility and cultural authority to bring us together as we begin treaty negotiations. 

For thousands of generations our peoples’ ancient jurisdictions and our lore and culture have served us well, so it will be powerful to have the Treaty Authority able to draw on our collective strength, wisdom, and continue our traditions as it oversees Treaty-making in Victoria.”

Quotes attributable to First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-Chair Rueben Berg:

“With various Traditional Owners across Victoria finding their own pathways to Treaty, it’s going to be important to have these skilled guides ready to help if someone needs a hand navigating through a problem or has a competing claim with another group.

“This independent umpire is also going to be able help the Government learn more about our peoples’ way of doing things. A business-as-usual approach isn’t going to get better results for Aboriginal people, so we want Government to really step outside the confines of Western thinking. They might just find there are many Indigenous solutions to modern problems.”

Quotes attributable to the Treaty Authority members:

Dr Petah Atkinson  

“Treaty is important to our people, it’s more than symbolic. It will provide a legal structure that positions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians as rightful stakeholders, as determined by our lore.

“Victoria is a leader in Treaty and I’m a proud Victorian. Treaty is an opportunity for our State to progress from the rhetoric of reconciliation and be drivers of systemic change.

“As a traditional owner with family connections across the state, I am well positioned to consider the lived experiences of our people in inclusive ways. I’ve been lucky to learn how integrity underpins actions from very strong Elders, especially women.” 

Thelma Austin 

“Our work is not just about being accountable to all Victorians today, it’s also about honoring our ancestors of yesterday, our people of today and our future generations of tomorrow.” 

“We now have the opportunity and the machinery in place to make Victoria a better place, a just place not only for First Peoples but for all Victorians.

“Our work will facilitate the journey not just towards justice, self -determination and empowerment for First Peoples, but will also be about building a solid foundation for reconciliation for all Victorians.”

Jidah Clark

“Our work is not just about facilitating treaties, but it is as much about building a better, just and reconciled community for all Victorians to celebrate and be proud of.

“The State and First Peoples’ Assembly have entrusted us to make Treaties happen with impartiality, a commitment to self-determination and empowerment, and that is what we are here to do.”

Andrew Jackomos PSM: 

“All Victorians can be proud of more than 65,000 years of Aboriginal, history, lore and culture on lands never ceded. The work of the Authority in facilitating treaties will honor these facts not just for our ancestors and today, but for all future generations. 

We will perform our responsibilities with respect, transparency and honesty, upholding Aboriginal Lore and Culture and we trust that all that join us in treaty negotiations will do the same. 

Treaties are sacred and our work in facilitating treaties will be sacred business. They are not just pieces of paper, but they are the essence for building forever relationships and partnerships between First Peoples and all other Victorians.”

Duean White

“Treaty is about acknowledging the past and building a brighter, fairer Victoria. We hope to support Traditional Owners and the State to reach equitable and workable outcomes”. 

“The task ahead is monumental. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change our peoples’ futures. I am proud to be living in a state that has the courage to do the right thing – that’s what reconciliation is all about”.