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Enacting the Victorian Government’s commitment to being a model treaty partner

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

This commitment requires a principle-based approach to government conduct and driving new ways of thinking and operating internally within the Victorian government.

Reforming government to support self-determination

The Victorian Government has committed to treaty as a necessary component to supporting self-determination in Victoria. Future treaties are likely to 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 Traditional Owners and 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 (SDR 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 (VAAF).

The SDR Framework requires all departments to undertake actions across the domains of people, systems, outcomes and accountability in order to progress the VAAF'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 SDR 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 SDR Framework Report has been included as a standalone section of the 2020 Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report tabled in Parliament. The Victorian Government will continue to transform in this way on its journey to treaty.

Embedding model treaty partner conduct across government

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’. 

In consideration of these obligations, the State agreed a ‘State Treaty Partner Protocol’ with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Assembly) to provide practical guidance across the Victorian Government and set out expectations of State conduct understood to be consistent with the guiding principles set out in Part 3 of the Treaty Act. 

The Protocol openly acknowledges concerns of Assembly members, as Aboriginal people, who have experienced intergenerational trauma and have a history of engagement with the State and its entities that may fall short of the conduct now required under the guiding principles of the Treaty Act. It does so as the State is committed to truth as a basis for building a new, stronger treaty relationship with Aboriginal people. 

The Protocol then outlines the State’s positive conduct commitments as befits a model treaty partner during Phase 2 negotiations. The Protocol has been disseminated across all departments, with work ongoing within interdepartmental treaty networks to embed its guidance in the day to day conduct of government during negotiations.

Focusing government frameworks to support treaty

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is the coordinating minister for treaty. In this role, the Minister leads engagement with the Assembly on behalf of the State and oversees whole of government participation in treaty discussions. 

A Treaty Interdepartmental Committee (Treaty IDC), comprised of a senior representative from each Victorian Government department, continued to meet during this period. Four Treaty IDC meetings were held to facilitate information sharing among departments and ensure strong understanding across government of levers that may help deliver on Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians’ aspirations for the treaty process. The Treaty IDC also provided an opportunity for departments to contribute advice on procedural and substantive issues in Phase 2 negotiations and support the ongoing work for whole of government engagement and coordination. 

Interdepartmental treaty networks also continued to operate 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 across the VPS on the path to treaty

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

With the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, virtual treaty presentations were delivered to the following areas of the VPS to improve treaty literacy: 

  • Department of Fairness, Families and Housing Executive Officers meeting
  • Department of Fairness, Families and Housing Board 
  • Department of Justice and Community Safety, Aboriginal Justice Reform Unit
  • Department of Education, Schools Education Program and Support 
  • participants attending the Department of Job, Precincts and Regions’ Inclusion Government Series
  • the former Department of Health and Human Services’ staff meeting