Jill Gallagher on ‘Game-changer’ Self-Determination Fund

Jan 12, 2023

Aunty Jill Gallagher holding the $102 foundational donation that kickstarted the Fund

Do you remember the first time you got your own paycheque – money that was yours to spend as you wanted or needed to?  

I do. I was 13 and working in a factory in Fitzroy. It felt so empowering for me to be independent and self-determining.  

Today as the CEO of a large and respected Community-controlled organisation, my next paycheque doesn’t need to be acutely front of mind. I’ve managed to build up some financial security and, I hope, laid a foundation for those who will come after me.  

But statistically for Aboriginal people, too many of us are struggling to recover from the economic disadvantage inflicted on us.  

Our people were murdered, forced off our ancestral lands and into missions, our children were taken away and every aspect of our lives – where we could live, who we could marry – was controlled by the authorities.  

This isn’t distant history, we’re talking about living memory and the impacts are still being felt today.  

While the people who forced us from our land where able to build their farms or cities and start consolidating and passing down their ‘new found’ wealth, our people were passing down trauma and disadvantage that often compounded over the generations.  

Fortunately, in Victoria, the shared journey to Treaty is underway – giving us an opportunity to negotiate a better deal for First Peoples and reset a more balanced relationship with newer Australians.  

Lots of people seem to think Treaty will be about symbolic and cultural recognition – and don’t get me wrong, those things are very important – but Treaty is inherently about restoring the freedom and power of my people to make the decisions that affect our lives.  

To do that, we must restore a degree of economic independence.  

I’m proud to be able to play a small part in the game-changing Self-Determination Fund.  

Set up by the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria – the democratic Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this state – the Self-Determination Fund will help Traditional Owners prepare for Treaty negotiations with the Victorian Government and create wealth for future generations.  

In November last year, I had the privilege of making the first contribution to the Fund: a ceremonial donation of $102 – the $2 being one of the special edition coins featuring the Aboriginal flag – and a traditional dilly bag which our people used for gathering food and wealth to sustain life in a traditional setting.    

I intend to make further and more substantial contributions, because I recognise the enormous potential this Self-Determination Fund will have.  

You see, there’s something unique and very important about this Fund: it will be managed entirely by First Peoples, for First Peoples.  

Over the years, governments have thrown money at various Aboriginal ‘problems’, but it came in the form of policies and programs designed for us – never by us. The ‘solutions’ cooked up by politicians and bureaucrats who rarely understood us or our culture, let alone respected it.  

What we’ve seen from experience is that our people know our community best. We know our culture and way of doing things. Take for example the success of my organisation – the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation – its success is because it’s run by our community for our community.  

My donation is just the first seed. The Government has committed to contribute an initial payment $65 million.  

Money can never right the devastating wrongs and injustices of the past or offer all the solutions, but it can help address the disadvantage those wrongs created.  

Most importantly, it will create new opportunities for our peoples to create prosperity for future generations. 

Jill Gallagher is a Gunditjmara woman, CEO of VACCHO and the former Treaty Advancement Commissioner.

Learn more about the Self-Determination Fund here.