"Victorian traditional owners maintain that their sovereignty has never been ceded, and Aboriginal Victorians have long called for treaty. These calls have long gone unanswered. The time has now come to take the next step towards reconciliation and to advance Aboriginal self-determination. Aboriginal Victorians and the State are ready to talk treaty."
– Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 (Vic) (Preamble).
As NAIDOC Week draws to a close, acknowledgements have been held across Australia in celebration of the history, culture and achievements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community under this year's theme of 'Voice, Treaty, Truth'. While NAIDOC week is a time to celebrate our success, it's also necessary to reflect on the struggle against which these successes have been achieved.
Despite a history of inequality and injustice, enforced by a legacy of colonialism and successive government policies, our community continues to succeed by maintaining a connection to country and a voice that's more than 65,000 years old.
This is a voice that has been raised at pivotal moments and shaped history. In 1972, my grandmother was one of a number of Aboriginal activists that raised this voice in occupying the lawn in front of Parliament House – this was to become the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
These activists sought to be elevated into the national conversation and the call of the Tent Embassy represented one moment in a continued effort by the Aboriginal community to be heard by government, institutions and non-Aboriginal people. The Tent Embassy succeeded in uniting Aboriginal people across Australia with one voice speaking truth and demanding reform to land rights.
This is a voice that continues to be raised today in speaking truth to power, this time calling for Treaty. This call has been taken up in Victoria, where a process to negotiate Treaty has been established through the work of community and government. Treaty is a mechanism to advance Aboriginal rights through substantive actions that achieve tangible results.
Importantly, Treaty is more than this - Treaty provides an opportunity to hear the voice of community and face the truths of history by empowering Aboriginal people to be a part of the decision-making process. In this way, Treaty represents self-determination in action and continues the efforts of the Tent Embassy, my grandmother and others to embed their voice in the conversations of the nation.
'Voice, Treaty, Truth' celebrates and acknowledges the history of the First Nations voice and represents the three key elements to the reforms set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement from the Heart signified a national consensus position on Aboriginal constitutional recognition, calling for a 'First Nations Voice' as a representative body in the Constitution and a 'Makarrata Commission' to supervise an agreement making process and engage in truth-telling – or 'Voice, Treaty, Truth'.
This advocacy has been given further consideration this week, when the Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Honourable Ken Wyatt AM MP, committed to finding a way forward for Indigenous constitutional recognition. In committing to this, the Minister gave specific consideration to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, stating that it was a "cry to all tiers of government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians at all levels, who want to be heard by those who make the decisions that impact on their lives." Critically, constitutional recognition could embed self-determination in the Constitution by establishing a First Nations voice to Parliament.
In Victoria, the ongoing pursuit of 'Voice, Treaty, Truth' has driven the Treaty process, but there is also an opportunity to elevate the First Nations voice by legally recognising the right to self-determination in Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
The Charter plays a critical role in protecting human rights in Victoria, but without a specific right for Aboriginal self-determination in Victoria, government action is at risk of inadvertently continuing the history of policy without consent. This is consistent with international human rights law and is something that the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission will continue to advocate for in partnership with the Aboriginal community.
At the close of this year's NAIDOC week, I reflect on the First Nations voice. The call for 'Voice, Treaty, Truth' has resonated and there is a sense of anticipation and promise. Ultimately, however, it is incumbent on government, institutions and non-Indigenous people to hear that voice in response.
NAIDOC Week is held from 7–14 July. Learn more about the week and events