It is my great privilege to be the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Victoria, as we work in partnership with the First Peoples’ Assembly (Assembly) of Victoria to lead the nation in treaty and truth.
This has been a year like no other. The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all. Despite its many challenges, I am incredibly proud of the milestones achieved this year by the State and First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (Assembly) on Victoria’s historic path to treaty.
Importantly, I acknowledge the significant work of the Assembly as the first democratically elected body of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians in the state’s history. Since it was established in 2019, the Assembly has engaged the Aboriginal Victorian community on treaty and truth, and progress has proceeded at pace despite COVID-19 impacts.
I thank the Assembly for its dedication, commitment and flexibility in these trying times.
Since commencement in August 2020, negotiations between the State and Assembly have proceeded in good faith, building and sustaining momentum towards treaty. We have agreed and established a dispute resolution process as required by the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act (Treaty Act).
We have published conduct protocols to found negotiations in a shared acknowledgement of the experiences of previous relationships between Aboriginal communities and the State. These set the standards for government to be a model treaty partner throughout the treaty process.
Negotiations are now underway on the remaining treaty elements, including a treaty negotiation framework, the establishment of a Treaty Authority, and the creation of a self-determination fund. I look forward to working closely with the Assembly and the progress to be made in the coming year.
And in a moment which had been owed for over 200 years, on 9 March 2021 the State and Assembly issued a joint statement announcing the establishment of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission (Commission) to lead a truth and justice process in Victoria. Named with the Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba word for ‘truth’, the Commission formally began its work on 14 May 2021. Professor Eleanor Bourke was appointed as Chair of the Commission, joined by fellow Commissioners Dr Wayne Atkinson, Ms Sue-Anne Hunter, Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter, and Professor the Honourable Kevin Bell AM QC.
With the establishment of the Commission, Victoria became the first and only jurisdiction in our nation to institute a formal truth-telling process. Independent from Government, and afforded the full power of a Royal Commission, the Commission recognises that without truth there can be no treaty, and without treaty there can be no justice.
The Commission has been tasked with investigating two broad streams of work: both the contemporary and historical injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation – across all areas of social, political and economic life. Its work promises to bring about real change by facilitating truth-telling and healing, educating the wider Victorian community, and developing recommendations for reform. The Commission will engage Victoria’s Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community to achieve its aims of truth telling and truth listening.
As Victorians, we all have a part to play in reconciliation. Treaty is a historic step forward. Our progress towards treaty and truth is unprecedented in Australia. Victoria is now the first and only jurisdiction to have actioned the treaty and truth elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. This is an outstanding achievement – one that we should all be proud of.
Through this process, we must keep listening to, and be led by, Aboriginal people and communities. This is the time for all Victorians to come together to ensure a more equitable and just future for generations to come.
Gabrielle Williams MP
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
Minister for Prevention of Family Violence
Minister for Women
Reviewed 01 November 2021