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Preparing the Victorian Government to be a model treaty partner

Victoria is proudly leading the nation with its commitment to treaty and advancing Aboriginal self-determination.

This commitment requires an agile and innovative public service, across all levels, to lead challenging conversations and drive new ways of thinking and operating.

Reforming government to support self-determination

The Victorian Government committed to treaty as necessary for supporting self-determination in Victoria. Future treaties could provide a mechanism through which the State can transfer decision-making power and resources to Aboriginal communities. However, separate to the treaty process, the government has begun comprehensive reform to implement its broader commitment to self-determination to ensure it can effectively respond to the aspirations of Aboriginal Victorians.

The State’s approach to whole of government self-determination reform is set out in the Victorian Government’s Self-Determination Reform Framework. The framework guides the Victorian Public Service (VPS) to undertake systemic and structural transformation to enable self-determination, as committed to in the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework 2018-2023. The Self-Determination Reform Framework requires all departments to undertake actions across the domains of people, systems, outcomes and accountability in order to progress the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Framework’s self-determination enablers, which are:

  • prioritise culture
  • address trauma and support healing
  • address racism and promote cultural safety
  • transfer power and resources to communities.

The Self-Determination Reform Framework provides the architecture for whole of government transformation and for this way of thinking to become part of operations. Departments report annually on their work and consider opportunities to progress along a continuum towards self-determination. The whole of government Self-Determination Reform Framework Report will be included as a standalone section of the Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report, tabled in Parliament annually. The Victorian Government will need to continue to transform in this way as it prepares to respond to treaty.

Building government’s capacity to conduct itself as a model treaty partner

Treaty presumes a particular kind of relationship; one of political equals coming together to formalise relationships and commit themselves to shared rights and obligations. The Treaty Act envisions a 'renewed and matured relationship' which is ‘one of equal partnership, founded on mutual respect’.

The State has committed itself, through the Treaty Act, to a pathway towards treaty and a standard of conduct. The Treaty Act sets out guiding principles which will apply to all parties in the treaty process, including government. The principles are:

  • self-determination and empowerment
  • fairness and equality
  • partnership and good faith
  • mutual benefit and sustainability
  • transparency and accountability.

Phase 2 of the treaty process, and the establishment of the Assembly – as an independent representative body for Aboriginal Victorians – requires the Victorian Government to demonstrate this commitment through its relationship with the Assembly. Working effectively in partnership with the Assembly requires systemic change, both within government and between government and Aboriginal communities.

Appointing a coordinating minister for treaty

To lead this change, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has taken on the role of coordinating minister for treaty. In this role, the Minister leads engagement with the Assembly on behalf of the State, oversees discussions on the treaty elements and ensures the State conducts itself as a good treaty partner in its dealings with the Assembly.

As coordinating minister for treaty, the Minister also oversees whole of government participation in Phase 2 treaty discussions. A collaborative, whole of government approach is required to adequately deliver the State’s aspirations for treaty, identify the State’s diverse interests and respond to the aspirations of Aboriginal Victorians, as represented through the Assembly.

Creating interdepartmental treaty networks

A Treaty Interdepartmental Committee, comprised of a senior representative from each Victorian Government department, operates to share information amongst departments and provide advice on procedural and substantive issues relevant to the treaty process.

Interdepartmental treaty networks have also been established across communications and policy areas. These networks consider treaty policy and communications initiatives, deliver departmental-specific treaty work and ensure that there is engagement across departments. The networks set the foundation for strong whole of government coordination. Collaboration training has also been delivered to departmental representatives. Ongoing collaboration will ensure the public service can deliver effective whole of government work on treaty.

Engaging the VPS on the path to treaty

Since 2019, a series of strategic events and targeted communications have been delivered to educate and engage VPS employees during Phase 2 of the treaty process.

In November 2019, the Secretaries Leadership Group on Aboriginal Affairs endorsed treaty content to be displayed in a permanent location on each department’s intranet site. This has been used as a tool to update staff and ensure there is continued awareness and support for treaty as it progresses. In addition, departmental Secretaries have regularly updated VPS staff on treaty milestones.

Interdepartmental events have also been held to provide a deeper understanding of the issues facing Aboriginal communities and to further educate VPS staff on the importance of being on the path to treaty alongside Aboriginal Victorians.

The Deadly Event series commenced on 9 August 2019 on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The series began with screenings of The Australian Dream, a powerful documentary written by Stan Grant about race, identity and belonging told through the prism of Adam Goodes and his final years in the AFL. A Deadly Questions panel followed each screening, with Aboriginal VPS staff leading the conversation around how the VPS can work towards treaty.

In addition to the event series a range of treaty presentations have been delivered to VPS employees. These presentations have included:

  • the keynote address at Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) all staff mid-year forum, provided by former Commissioner Jill Gallagher AO
  • presentation at the Department of Education and Training all staff forum
  • presentations for the Department of Health and Human Services all staff forum and Aboriginal staff network
  • presentations for departmental Boards of Management
  • participation in the VPS human rights week panel discussion
  • a presentation to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning during NAIDOC week
  • a presentation to board members of water corporations.

DPC will continue to run events to engage and educate the VPS on treaty matters.

Deadly Questions, a public facing communications campaign was launched by the Victorian Government in 2018. Deadly Questions provides an opportunity for non-Aboriginal Victorians to acquire deeper knowledge of Aboriginal cultures, histories and issues through the voices of Aboriginal Victorians. Deadly Questions is being used as an educational tool in collaboration with the People and Culture teams across government to enhance existing cultural awareness training by including treaty content and introducing Deadly Questions as a platform for further learning.