Report back: December Assembly Chamber Meeting

The next steps on the journey to Treaty

A self-determination fund and the creation of an independent Treaty ‘umpire’ were the key focus of discussions at our Chamber Meeting in Bendigo last week. 

With the easing of covid restrictions, Members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria were able to meet in person last week on Dja Dja Wurrung country for the December Chamber Meeting and mark the midpoint of the Assembly’s first term. 

Assembly Co-Chair and Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder, Geraldine Atkinson, said she is excited by how much progress has been made on the shared journey to Treaty in Victoria. 

“This is history in the making. The Assembly and the Treaty process has created the space for Community to come together, work through our differences and unite for a common purpose. That is Treaty so our people always have the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect our lives, our communities and our Country,” said Aunty Geri. 

Assembly Members and staff were welcomed to country by Aunty Marilyne Nicholls with a smoking ceremony and a didgeridoo performance by Jason Kerr and later Uncle Rodney Carter, CEO of Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (Djarra) gave a presentation on the history and struggle for justice of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. 

Following the acknowledgement of sorry business in communities across Victoria, the meeting’s two-day Agenda covered a lot of ground, but two significant discussions centred on the creation of a Self-Determination Fund and Treaty Authority.  

Self-Determination Fund 

Aunty Geri said a Self-Determination fund will help Traditional Owners enter Treaty negotiations on more equal footing, but will also provide resources to drive our own priorities and aspirations. 

“We need more than just symbolic recognition. Treaty must deliver the means for us to stand once again on our own feet and determine our own path forward. An opportunity to do things our own way, because we’re sick of politicians trying to impose their ‘one size fits all’ policies on our communities that have different priorities,” said Aunty Geri. 

Members listened to presentations about various approaches taken with funds around the world and workshopped ideas that would better reflect and accommodate local cultural needs which will be taken for further consultations with Community. 

Assembly Co-Chair and proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation, Marcus Stewart, said Members and the Community should ‘think outside the square’ when it comes to the architecture of Treaty-making. 

“We’re not going to limit ourselves to things that have been done before. This is our chance for big, bold positive ideas. Nothing is off the table, so if you’re mob get involved, have your say and most importantly enrol with the Assembly,” said Marcus. 

Treaty Authority 

The other key discussion focused on ways to ensure the Treaty Authority – an independent body that would facilitate Treaty negotiations and help resolve disagreements – could operate entirely outside of the Government’s bureaucracy. 

“We’ve been having some really interesting yarns about how we make sure the independent Treaty body is one that our community can really have faith in and can operate in a way that embraces our culture and our approach. We think it needs to be Aboriginal-led and grounded in our lore. Treaty isn’t about us getting access to the Government’s table, it’s about them coming and sitting down with us and listening about what we want and how we want to do things,” said Marcus. 

The Assembly has published a discussion paper about the Treaty Authority and is seeking feedback and ideas from community members.  

Key questions include the selection of people for the Treaty Authority and how the body will perform its role to uphold the guiding principles of self-determination and empowerment, independence and impartiality, and accountability. 

“To ensure the Treaty Authority is entirely independent of Government, at this stage we’re thinking it needs to consist of only First Nations people on the panel and have entirely different reporting lines and obligations to usual public bodies. Essentially, we are pushing the Government to relinquish some of its power as part of these steps towards Treaty,” said Marcus. 

Visitors 

The Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gabrielle Williams, also joined the meeting by video link for a productive discussion with Members on the second day. 

Members were joined for lunch by the Yoo-rrook Justice Commissioners – Aunty Eleanor Bourke, Sue-Anne Hunter, Maggie Waters, Uncle Wayne Atkinson and Kevin Bell – who then gave presentations on the work and plans of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission’s truth-telling process. 

Other business 

Members heard report backs on various operational activities and provided feedback and direction. They also discussed new policies – including an agreement to develop a policy to respond to and avoid lateral violence. 

Details for the upcoming byelection in the North East region in March will be finalised by the board. 

A live QandA broadcast was held with Members answering questions submitted via social media and a recording can be viewed here. 

To wrap the proceedings up, member Trent Nelson conducted a smoking ceremony which was attended by Aunty Fay Carter and Aunty Linda Ford. 

The next Chamber meeting will be held on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 February. 

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