Treaty bill passes lower house

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Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Geraldine Atkinson at state parliament.

The Victorian Parliament’s lower house has passed a bill to create an independent authority to oversee treaty negotiations with the state’s First Nations people.

The legislation will facilitate a Treaty Authority — an individual body separate from government bureaucracy and led entirely by First Nations people.

The Treaty Authority will act as an “umpire” in negotiations going forward, grounded in First Peoples’ culture, law and lore.

The bill passed with only a single MP voting against it, and now it will go to the upper house.

In her address to parliament, co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, said the Treaty Authority was not something a colonial system could control.

“We determine who we are, who represents us, where our Country is ... don’t look back on this moment in years to come to see yourself on the wrong side of history,” she said.

Aunty Geraldine said there was an overwhelming display of unity.

“We’ve got a long journey ahead of us, but it’s great to see people in Victoria are willing to walk with us as ultimately this is about creating a better future together,” she said.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed also spoke in support of the bill; she said it was important to acknowledge the pain behind working toward Treaty.

“It has been a very long, hard journey for the Aboriginal people of Australia to achieve recognition, land rights, native title and now a process towards treaty making,” Ms Sheed said.

“This journey has been hard-fought and filled with disappointment along the way, but communities here in Victoria have never given up hope.

“They have continued to work hard to get to this point today where we are debating a very important bill that is part of that process.”