- The Guardian
- Issue #2040
Photo: Wayne Quilliam / Yothu Yindi Foundation – flickr.com (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The requests from the Uluru Statement from the Heart imply a journey that all Australians will need to take together to achieve a nation espousing true equality and dignity for all.
This statement, set to become one the most significant documents that has shaped Australian history, enshrines a plea for “justice and self-determination” from the first sovereign owners of this continent for the whole nation to make amends for the tragedies of the past. The key paragraphs state:
“We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”
“Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.”
“We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.”
While at the national level the focus has been on the establishment on the First Nations Voice to our federal parliament, at the state and territory level of government across the nation consideration is also being given to the other key requests of the “Uluru Statement from the Heart,” that is, the Makarrata or treaty, and the associated truth-telling about First Nations history. In addition, the emphasis is on governments across the nation making agreements with Australia’s First Nations to meet their expressed “aspirations.” Let us consider what is actually happening in each state and territory around the nation.
SA – VOICE FIRST
Similar to the federal level of government, South Australia has chosen as an initial step to proceed with voice under its Voice to Parliament legislation, the result of state-wide consultation by the Inaugural Commissioner for First Nations Voice, Dale Agius, a respected Ngarrinjeri elder and advocate of the principle of self-determination. The SA First Nations Voice will comprise representatives from regions across the state.
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher says the Voice to Parliament won’t “impinge” on Native Title, after traditional owners penned an open letter raising concerns. (The Advertiser)
To date, the South Australian government has placed strong emphasis on the Voice, while Truth Telling and Treaty are yet to receive detailed official consideration.
QLD – TRUTH TELLING AS A PATH TO TREATY
The Queensland government says a bill to legalise the establishment of a three-year Indigenous truth-telling inquiry will come before parliament in 2023, as the state unveils steps it will take towards signing a treaty with First Nations peoples. Truth telling will take place with support from such institutions as art galleries, museums, and libraries accompanied by government-facilitated research.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has declared, “What we do next on the Path to Treaty will define our humanity, our sense of fairness, and the legacy we leave our children.” The Voice remains a consideration for the future.
Indigenous activist and author Jackie Huggins says treaty is about accepting our true history to open the door to our shared futures. (Facebook: Annastacia Palaszczuk) per ABC News
VIC – TREATY FIRST, IMPLICIT VOICE
“In negotiating a Treaty with First Peoples, the Victorian Government is acknowledging that prior to the formation of the State of Victoria, First Peoples communities were here – practising their own law, lore, and cultural authority.” (“Treaty Victoria”, www.firstpeoplesrelations.vic.gov.au/treaty)
An “overarching Statewide Treaty” is proposed along with multiple local Treaties with provisions for “political representation” and “economic development” which has implications for “land and water” control or management. Working through a First Peoples’ Treaty Authority, the Victorian government believes that a negotiated Treaty will provide “sustainable solutions” into the future with First Nations peoples “making decisions that will impact their lives.”
WA – TRUTH TELLING FIRST
In Western Australia the government has developed an Aboriginal Empowerment Strategy 2021 – 2029 to promote a “better future” for their First Nations peoples. “Walking together” is seen as a key element of this strategy along with Truth Telling, hopefully leading to a reduction in racism. Ideally, the process should involve an avoidance of trauma and in fact embrace a promotion of healing. In a historical perspective, on the one hand there should be recognition of dispossession, frontier violence and massacres, and on the other, an emphasis on survival and endurance along with examples of cooperation between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people.
Premier McGowan has emphasised that the West Australian Constitution now recognises “Aboriginal People as the first people of Western Australia and traditional custodians of the land.” In addition, recent settlement agreements, the South West Settlement and the Geraldton Settlement, both contain some of the elements found in many treaties. Before acting further, the WA government appears to be awaiting the outcome of the national referendum.
TAS – TRUTH TELLING, AT LEAST
The Tasmanian Government sees Truth Telling not simply as an end in itself but rather believes the process must result in tangible outcomes such as changes in education curricula and the naming of landmarks. In Tasmania it is recognised that Truth Telling may have “re-traumatising” effects needing psychological support. Government leadership in the island state has strongly supported the concept of the Voice nationally if not locally as yet. Empathy should prevail as discussions continue.
NT – TREATY BASED ON TRUTH TELLING
Under the Barunga Agreement 2018, First Nations Territorians are acknowledged as the “prior owners and occupiers” of the land and sea. In addition, under the Treaty Commissioner Act 2020, Mick Dodson, a notable member of the Yawuru people, was appointed the Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner. The Act specified Truth Telling as the “core of any Treaty negotiations.” However, the process is yet to be resolved, and may be delayed by recent events in Alice Springs and immediate concerns such as the desperate need for employment opportunities and adequate housing as well as comprehensive education and training programs.
ACT – TREATY INVESTIGATION
The ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement 2019-2028 obliges the signatories to work together to “enable equitable outcomes” for Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples in the ACT.
In 2022 Professor Kerry Arabena, a descendant of the Merian people of the Torres Strait and Chair of Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne was appointed as the facilitator of preliminary talks about what a Treaty would mean for the traditional owners of the ACT.
The Chief Minister is due to make a formal response outlining key elements of a proposed Treaty for the Northern Territory.
NSW – PROMISE OF TREATY
A formal Treaty process should begin in NSW if a Labor Government is elected in March 2023. NSW is yet to begin work on any agreement with First Nations people. The current Coalition government leadership has given clear support for the national Voice despite the lack of initiative at the state level.
Virtually all state and territory governments across Australia have at least taken some heed of the requests of the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” which, at the very least, should bode well for harmony and reconciliation, both long overdue, in the future of this nation.
State legislation has a profound effect on First Nations people just as federal legislation does. For instance, the introduction of designated seats in parliament for First Nations representatives in one legislature as a complementary form of the “Voice”, will inevitably pose a challenge for other legislatures. A momentous journey has just begun.
The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) is committed to the establishment of a genuinely representative national Aboriginal advisory body, to the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and to recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original occupiers and owners of Australian territory.
The Party supports the Voice; at the same time it recognises that Land Rights and control over their own affairs by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are necessary for real recognition and prosperity to be achieved.