Marcus Stewart’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.

Marcus Stewart’s handover speech

Ngun Godjin. Hello everyone.  

My name is Marcus Stewart. I’m a proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation. 

I will begin by acknowledging and paying my respects to all the Elders and Traditional Owners, including the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people – the Traditional Owners of this land. 

It has been my privilege to co-chair the inaugural First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and to do so alongside Aunty Geri.

Today marks the beginning of a new Chapter for the Assembly and in our state’s history.  

The inaugural Assembly laid the foundations and process for Treaty-making.  

At every step, we’ve been sure not to be constrained by colonial systems and concepts. The journey to Treaty must be done on our terms. 

Over our first term, we: 

  • Set up Australia’s first formal truth-telling process, the Yoorrook Justice Commission.  

  • Designed the independent umpire, the Treaty Authority, that sits outside the usual government system and will be grounded in our own culture, lore and law.  

  • Created a Self Determination Fund to help Traditional Owners get ‘Treaty-ready’ and to help generate wealth and prosperity for future generations. 

  • Reached agreement on the ‘Treaty Negotiation Framework’, which is essentially the rule book for Treaty-making in Victoria. It enables the various Traditional Owners across the state to negotiate Treaties in their areas, as well as one statewide Treaty.  

These are tangible outcomes of our hard work and commitment to making Treaty a reality for our people.  

They were created by mob, for mob. Their very existence is an act of self-determination and of decolonisation.  

We have started to put power back in Aboriginal hands.  

And this is just the beginning.  

While the inaugural Assembly has done the groundwork, it’s now over to you to make it a reality. 

I’ve enjoyed immensely my time on the Assembly and am proud of what we achieved together so far. 

We must also take a moment to acknowledge the excellent work of Aunty Jill Gallagher AO for her role in helping establish the Assembly. 

I also want to acknowledge on the other side of the table, the government reps and politicians who have been on this journey. Not just on the government side, but all of the cross-party support we’ve had as is evident by the overwhelming backing we had for the establishment of the Treaty Authority last year. 

Treaty is and should stay above party politics. 

It’s a journey that must be led by First Peoples, but it’s a journey best taken together. 

Treaty will make Victoria a better and fairer place. 

It will deliver better outcomes for Aboriginal people. 

It will also provide opportunities for everyone who now calls Victoria home to come together and recognise, respect and celebrate the oldest living culture in the world. 

Everyone wants to get on with creating a better future together as equals, but to do that we need to reckon with the injustices of the past, improve how things are done today, and work out better systems for creating a better future together.  

That’s what Treaty is all about. It’s also something I believe the Federal Voice to Parliament will help with. 

The Uluru Statement from the Heart called for Voice, Treaty and Truth.  

In Victoria, we’re getting on with all three.  

Having a Voice was an important first step in our journey here – having a collective democratic forum where mob could come together and find common ground and shared objectives. 

Likewise, at a Federal level, the Voice will be a stepping stone.  

Voice, Treaty and Truth are a package deal. I’ve helped progress all three here in Victoria and I will help progress all three at a national level, and I urge all Members to as well. 

Any step forward that gives Aboriginal people more of a say on the decisions that affect their lives is a step we need to back in. 

Laws and policies about Aboriginal people are always going to deliver better results when Aboriginal people have the ability to shape those laws and policies.

At the referendum in 1967, Aboriginal people asked to be counted, in 2023 we’re asking to be listened to.  

Your time as members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria will be history-making for our people. 

You can kick off your term by helping mob around the country to win a referendum. Don’t squander this opportunity. 

And, of course, you’ll have a lot of work ahead in the preparations for the negotiation of a statewide Treaty. 

The eyes of mob right around the country will be on you. 

The Treaty you negotiate can tackle the big structure issues. It can create jobs, build more homes, improve education and health, reform the justice system, and more. 

Nothing is off the table.  

Imagine this: in a few generations’ time, our people will have never known life without Treaty.  

Each of you has a role to play in making this a reality.  

My advice? Unity. Take your time to sort your differences out. Find the common ground, and then stick to each other like glue. Back yourself and each other.  

Negotiate a Treaty that puts decision-making power about Aboriginal people back into Aboriginal hands.  

Negotiate a Treaty that will help everyone in Victoria connect with, respect and celebrate the oldest living culture in the world. 

There’s a lot at stake for First Nations peoples, but our success will not come at anyone’s expense. Voice, Treaty and Truth are all steps that will benefit the entire community. 

These discussions aren’t about assigning blame and guilt, they’re about understanding what caused and what perpetuates the problems and committing to fixing them. 

We know our communities, we have the solutions – we just need the ability to make the decisions ourselves, and that’s what Treaty will deliver. 

Good luck. 

Please check against delivery.