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Establishing a representative body for Aboriginal Victorians

Consulting with community to establish an Aboriginal Representative Body.

Consulting with community to establish an Aboriginal Representative Body

The office of the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner was established in December 2017. Ms Jill Gallagher AO commenced as Commissioner in January 2018 and served as Commissioner until January 2020, after the Assembly was declared to be the Aboriginal Representative Body under the Treaty Act. The Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission supported the Commissioner, whose role was to:

  • establish the Aboriginal Representative Body, based on recommendations from the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group and the Community Assembly
  • undertake consultations with Aboriginal communities and organisations across Victoria on the treaty process and the establishment of the Aboriginal Representative Body
  • maintain momentum of the treaty process
  • provide advice and research to government and Aboriginal communities on the treaty process
  • keep the public updated on the Commission’s work.

The Commissioner led extensive engagement with Aboriginal communities across Victoria, as detailed in the Advancing the Treaty Process Annual Report and Plan 2018-19. In February 2019, the Commissioner announced the final design of the Aboriginal Representative Body, along with the body’s name – the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

Holding the election for the Assembly

Throughout 2019, the Commission prepared and oversaw a statewide election process for the Assembly’s 21 general seats. The election process officially commenced in May 2019 and was finalised with the announcement of the results in November 2019.

Enrolments to the Aboriginal Electoral Roll for the Assembly election opened on 10 May 2019. Eligibility was open to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 and over, who were either Traditional Owners of country in Victoria or had lived in Victoria for at least three of the past five years. Candidate nominations for those seeking to be elected as representatives opened on 27 May 2019. Only Victorian Traditional Owners were eligible to nominate as candidates.

The election took place between 16 September and 20 October 2019, with voting available online, by post and in person at designated electoral booths.

In parallel to the Assembly election process, Victoria’s formally recognised Traditional Owner groups undertook their own internal processes to select a representative for their reserved seats on the Assembly. The Victorian Government offered funding to support these processes, to ensure formally recognised Traditional Owner groups were able to hold robust and inclusive selection processes.

Confirming Victorian Traditional Owners elected to the Assembly

On 4 November 2019, in a historic moment for Victoria, the Commissioner announced the 21 inaugural elected members of the Assembly. On 15 November 2020, the Commissioner also announced 10 reserved seat members appointed by formally recognised Traditional Owner groups. One formally recognised Traditional Owner group decided not to nominate a member for its reserved seat.

The Assembly is comprised of 31 members to reflect the diversity of Aboriginal Victorians, with 21 members elected by Aboriginal Victorians across five voting regions and 10 members appointed by formally recognised Traditional Owner groups. Details of all Assembly members are available on the Assembly's website.

Each Assembly member is responsible for ensuring the views of Aboriginal Victorians continue to inform the treaty process. Elected members represent Aboriginal Victorians within their respective regions, while reserved seat members represent members of their Traditional Owner groups.

Supporting the Assembly through its transitional phase

After the completion of the Assembly election, the Assembly quickly got to work, supported by the Commission. The Assembly was declared to be the Aboriginal Representative Body on 9 December 2019. On 10-11 December 2019, the Assembly held its first meeting.

The Assembly’s first meeting was held in the Victorian Parliament’s Legislative Council, which had been modified to reflect the cultural business taking place there. The meeting was live-streamed to ensure Aboriginal Victorians – and all Victorians – had the opportunity to witness and share in this historic moment. At the meeting, the Commissioner provided an overview of the Assembly’s role and invited Assembly members to provide introductory statements. Assembly members spoke proudly of what it means to them to be elected to represent their families and communities, their respective journeys to that point and their future aspirations for the treaty process. The Assembly’s first meeting was also an opportunity for members to elect the Assembly executive and co-chairs.

After the Assembly’s establishment, the Commission began winding down, while supporting the Assembly to transition into its full operations. The Commissioner officially completed her duties on 10 January 2020, after her tireless work resulted in the successful establishment of the Assembly.