Decision-making power in Aboriginal hands will deliver better outcomes

Jul 28, 2023

Rueben Berg addresses Assembly Members, the Victorian Premier and members of Victorian Parliament as the newly elected co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly.

Ngata. Ngathook Gunditjmara. Ngathoo-ngat leenyoong Rueben Berg

Thank you, Aunty Di, for welcoming us today. It is a pleasure to be here on the land of the Wurundjeri peoples.

I’m very pleased to be able here. It’s an incredible responsibility and honour to be here today.

Ngarra – thank you. What a journey we have ahead of us. I’m so very pleased that we can take these first steps together and look forward to working together and with the whole Assembly team.

I’m also of course looking forward to getting down to business with all members of Parliament. I know we’ll have many more meetings with you, Mr Premier, but we’ll also be making an effort to keep Treaty above party politics and will be inviting all MPs and all parties to walk with us on this shared journey.

Today is a historic moment.

Here we have the newly elected Assembly – proud Traditional Owners of Country chosen by their communities – meeting with the elected representatives of the State of Victoria.

We’re coming together here as two sovereigns.

Everyone here in this room has the responsibility of finding a new way, a better way, of doing things in this state when it comes to the issues affecting our lives, as First Peoples.

Everyone here are the people that will get Treaty done.

We in this room, alongside our communities, are the ones who are going to get Treaty done.

We’ll do it together and we’ll do it as equals and we’ll do it with respect.

We’ve got a long but exciting journey ahead of us. But first, let me just remind everyone of some of the important work to date.

The last term of the Assembly was about laying the foundations for Treaty-making

We’ve agreed upon:

  • The ground rules for Treaty-making
  • Setting up the independent Treaty umpire
  • A Self-Determination Fund, which will build prosperity on Country

And this is no small feat.

So thanks to the outgoing Members of the first term of the Assembly for helping to forge the path forward towards Treaty and for staying true to mob along the way.

I want to extend our thanks to you, Premier, and your government.

Thanks for the goodwill you brought to the negotiations over the Assembly’s last term, which enabled us to reach these agreements.

The toxic politics and racism at play in the national debate underway is a stark reminder of how much progress has been made in Victoria.

So, I want to acknowledge how far ahead of the pack this government has been.

You were willing to embark on the Treaty journey before your federal counterparts were even able to recognise the need to address the problems or do things differently.

I believe a big part of that was your willingness to listen.

Any good government knows that when it’s creating policies and programs for any group of people, it will get better results if it listens to those people the policies are for.

For me, that basic concept is at the heart of this conversation and the national debate about a Voice to Parliament.

If we want governments to listen to us, we need to have a voice.

Thankfully here in Victoria, we have a Voice – the First Peoples’ Assembly.

An Assembly chosen by mob all across the state. Look at the diversity here – diversity of mobs, or experiences, of people from cities, from towns, from the bush.

And here in Victoria, we’re even going one better than just listening.

Through Treaty, we’re getting ready to hand the decisions about Aboriginal people, back to Aboriginal people.

We’ll put decision-making power back into Aboriginal hands, because it’s the right thing to do and because it’s the smart thing to do – it will deliver better outcomes.

Voice Treaty and Truth – we’re getting on with all three right here.

Aboriginal people know what’s best for Aboriginal people – we know our communities, we have the solutions – we just need the freedom and power to make the decisions that will improve our lives.

For too long unfair laws and policies have been imposed on us by governments that – even when well-meaning – don’t really understand us or our culture, and often make things worse.

That ends with Treaty.

Our people will have the chance to make the decisions that affect us, our communities, our lands and waters, and our cultures.

So, Victoria has led the way. And now it’s crunch time.

As we begin the Assembly’s second term, we are set to begin negotiating the first-ever Treaty between governments and First Peoples in this country’s history.

The eyes of the nation will be watching us – but, more importantly, our mob will be watching us, and our children will be watching us.

We have a responsibility, all of us in this room, including you Premier and Ministers, to deliver on this promise of Treaty and not let mob down.

Mob have heard the promises. Empty promises. Broken promises.

Now is the time to deliver.

As Ngarra said, the journey will likely have its challenges. But the rewards will be great for everyone.

For us mob, we’ll get a chance to deliver tangible improvements to the lives of our people.

We can go from surviving to thriving.

And when that happens, everyone benefits.

We long to see our culture and our languages getting the respect they deserve.

When we can thrive and when we can keep our culture strong, we’ll also have more ability to share in and celebrate that.

Ours is the oldest living culture in the world – and it’s here, here in this room, here in every corner of Victoria.

Let’s recognise that and use Treaty as an invitation to everyone in Victoria to deepen their connection and understanding to this place we all call home.

Some of those steps will be easy. Dual naming for example.

Here we are in Melbourne, Naarm. That’s a term we should be using much more often, that’s a simple outcome we can move towards.

Some of the steps will be hard. Reforming our justice system. Finding better ways to provide our young ones with love and support instead of misunderstanding and punishment.

Some of the steps are not even known yet.

Because for me, Treaty isn’t a destination – it won’t be a static document written in stone. Treaty will be a way for us to come together respectfully, like this today, and navigate the conversations that have to be had.

So again, thank you to the Government representatives, for being here.

Thanks for supporting Voice, Treaty and Truth.

These conversations will lead to better laws and policies that will deliver better outcomes for Aboriginal people. The change they deliver will make a practical difference to our lives.

Here in Victoria, we’ve already seen the benefits of pursuing things like Voice, Treaty and Truth.

We are a minority, so when it comes to getting Voice, Treaty and Truth for our people here, we will need your firepower, your solidarity.

So, let’s keep talking about this, the Assembly would like to meet with you more regularly throughout the next year and we look forward to those conversations.

Let’s all talk. And let’s all listen.

Together we can do something here that will make Victoria a fairer and better place to live and will benefit generations to come.

Thank you.