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Marcus Stewart’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.

Marcus Stewart speech to Parliament

My name is Marcus Stewart. I’m a proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation and I am a fellow co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

I will also begin by acknowledging and paying my respects to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people – the Traditional Owners of the land that Parliament House has been built on – and to all Elders and Traditional Owners.

I say in my language, the Taungurung language, Gabimele (greetings), Ngun Godjin. [Marcus gave an acknowledgement of Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Country in Taungurung language]

The acknowledgements we give and the language we use recognises the simple truth that there was a society of people here before invasion. And we are still here.

As I did a couple of weeks ago when we were on Gadubanud Country of the Eastern Maar people, in Lorne for the ceremonial signing of the Treaty Authority Agreement with the Premier, I want to invite every elected member of the Legislative Assembly to look up at the gallery seats and take a look of the faces of the elected Members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

These people are the heart and soul of the Treaty movement here in Victoria. They stand on the shoulders of giants and have been able to deliver on our community aspiration, and our activism and our advocacy.

They’ve been out yarning with mob all over this state. Having the hard conversations. Finding the common threads and stitching them together.

They are the builders and the community architects.

I’m really proud to be walking alongside these people with the common purpose of securing tangible structural change that will improve the lives of our people.

The Assembly is living proof that sovereignty was never ceded – a bold and positive act of self-determination.

I also want to join Aunty Geri in thanking Jill Gallagher AO for her role is establishing the Assembly.

It’s a good example of the progress that can be made when First Peoples are put in the driver’s seat – when the solutions are crafted by First People and for First Peoples.

That’s what Treaty is all about. Ensuring First Peoples have the freedom and power to make the decisions to affect our communities, our culture and our Country.

So it makes complete sense that our lore, law and cultural authority is at the heart of the architecture we put in place to get Treaty done.

Since invasion, successive governments have by and large inflicted serious harm on our people.

For a long time the desire behind policies and laws — created right here in this room — was to eliminate us entirely.

First Peoples in Victoria live in the shadow of colonisation. It follows us wherever we go. Targeted, issue-specific reform may cast discrete beams of light into our lives, but only more profound structural change can eradicate this shadow.

Centuries have shown that the platitudes of the powerful cannot bring the kind of change that we need.

Treaty is changing this. It is about giving First Peoples the power to decide First Peoples’ issues.

If we want Treaty to deliver, if we want it to improve the lives of our people, we cannot move forward using the same systems that have been used against us or held us back for so long.

That is why passing the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 is such a crucial step on our journey to Treaty.

The Treaty Authority was informed after years of yarning, consultations and engagement with our people.

As you know, building consensus takes time. And we come here with an agreement that we are confident has the backing of our communities.

This model will ensure that Treaty negotiations are not restrained by colonial systems and government bureaucracy.

Instead, these negotiations will uphold our culture, our lore and law, which has been practiced on these lands for countless generations.

By passing this Bill, Victoria would take a huge leap forward on the journey to Treaty, a huge step towards setting things right.

I will repeat the wise words of Aunty Geri: don’t look back on this moment in years to come to see yourself on the wrong side of history.

Instead walk with us and do all you can to support this ground-breaking treaty process.

Again: this model was designed by First Peoples, for First Peoples.

The Victorian Government has shown that they are willing to listen to our people. Yesterday the Opposition did the same. Demonstrating treaty is beyond politics.

So I stand here in expectation that the entire Parliament will support this Bill.

Treaty is about listening to First Peoples. Well, we have spoken. This is what we need – this is what we are asking for.

Without Treaty, what is now called Victoria will remain — in our peoples’ hearts, minds and reality — the colony of Victoria.

We’re asking you all to pass the bill and breathe life into the agreement.

Show the rest of Australia that Victoria is ready to right the wrongs of the past and create a better future together. To welcome in a united, not a divided future for all Victorians.

The sad truth is there are not many indicators that show a positive outcome of government involvement in Aboriginal peoples lives.

On the flip side, there is overwhelming evidence that shows when Aboriginal people are in charge of the programs and policies that affect our lives, they succeed.

If you believe that Aboriginal people should succeed, then vote for this bill.

If you believe that Aboriginal people should have the ability to make the decisions about our lives. Then vote for this Bill.

The Treaty Authority agreement is decolonisation in action.

I firmly believe that the journey to Treaty will bring us closer together as a society. But I want to be clear: Treaty isn’t merely symbolic, as some have tried to suggest in recent days – Treaty is about securing tangible structural change that will improve our lives.

I want to thank all of the parliamentarians that have met with us and sought to learn more about the Treaty process that we’re putting together.

I urge anyone who has any reservations to reach out. Our door is open.

The journey to Treaty might not always be easy – it might push some beyond their comfort zones, but it’s a journey we need to take and it’s a journey best taken together.

So please, walk with us.

Thank you.