Green Party leader Adam Bandt is calling on the federal government to immediately begin a “truth-telling” process for First Nations people in Australia, pointing to work being carried out in Victoria.
Victoria has long been considered the most progressive state in treaty discussions with local indigenous groups.
The state is taking steps towards a treaty through the Yoorrook Justice Commission, in a process completely separate from the failed national Indigenous Voice referendum to Parliament in October 2023.
The treaty negotiations themselves are expected to begin in early 2024. Any deal would have to be legislated by state parliament.
Steps are being taken towards a treaty through the Yoorrook Justice Commission, in a process completely separate from the failed national Indigenous Voice referendum to Parliament in October 2023.
Indigenous Voice to Parliament was rejected during a referendum in October, despite the best efforts of Linda Burney (right) and Anthony Albanese (left).
Mr Bandt argued this week: ‘A nationwide truth-seeking process could start now and should start now.
“We’ve seen in Victoria that the process has been underway and it’s making a big difference and laying the foundation for future changes.”
In Victoria, the state government has committed to working toward a treaty that “recognizes the truth of Victoria’s history.”
According to the government website, the Yoorrook Commission “is investigating historical and ongoing injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation, in all areas of social, political and economic life”.
The commission was formally established in 2021, ahead of Albanese’s own commitment to hold a Voice referendum.
Supporters were devastated by the result of the Voice referendum in October last year.
Greens leader Adam Bandt argued this week: “A nationwide truth-seeking process could start now and should start now.”
Yoorrook is the Wemba Wemba word meaning “truth”. The commission is independent of the government and is funded until at least June 30, 2025.
It has the same powers as a royal commission, meaning it can hold public hearings, compel people to give evidence, call witnesses under oath and make recommendations to the government.
In addition to ongoing investigations into historic massacres of First Nations people, the commission is also focusing on Victoria’s legal system, First Nations policing and child protection.
The Yoorrook Commission may recommend that institutional and legal reforms be agreed upon during future treaties, as well as “adequate redress for systemic injustice.”
The most recent interim report was released in 2022 following a series of hearings with First Nations communities and detailed findings of “systemic injustices, both historical and current.”
“Elders consistently linked current injustices to past injustices as a continuing impact of colonization,” the report found.
“While Yoorrook’s truth-seeking processes are still at an early stage, the evidence gathered so far is substantial.”
The commission has committed to directing resources toward the “state-sanctioned separation of First Peoples’ children from their families” and the continued “injustices experienced by First Peoples in the criminal justice system.”
Additionally, the commission will continue to promote and assist in truth-telling discussions and Victoria’s progress towards the treaty.
The push for the treaty initially had bipartisan support, but in late January state opposition leader John Pesutto revealed that the Coalition had withdrawn its support.
He said internal talks had been ongoing “for many months” and expressed concern that the treaties could “make the community feel more divided.”
The Victorian First People’s Assembly, a group of democratically elected people who act as a “Voice” for Indigenous people, said the announcement was “disappointing” but said there was still a “clear path to the treaty.” ” in the state.
“A national truth-telling process will allow people to share their experiences about what colonization has meant to them,” Bandt said.
“Our priority… is that Labor must recommit to that process of telling the truth and signing treaties.”
Labor has been criticized for dragging its feet after the Voice fiasco, despite setting aside $27.7 million in the last budget to deal with a Makarrata Commission, which could essentially act in a similar way to Victoria’s Yoorrook Commission.
Labor has been criticized for failing to advance indigenous policy after the failure of Voice. This is despite setting aside $27.7 million from the last budget to address a Makarrata Commission, which could essentially act similarly to Victoria’s Yoorrook Commission.
The Uluru Heart Statement, to which Labor fully committed during the last election campaign, called for three pillars of reconciliation: a voice, a treaty and truth.
The Makarrata Commission was designed to advance both treaties and truth-telling at the federal level, but stalled during the Voice campaign amid concerns about what a treaty – or treaties – might look like in practice.
In the four months since the Voice bid failed, Australian Indigenous Minister Linda Burney and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese have avoided explicitly revealing their future plans for the portfolio.
Work on the Makarrata Commission remains on hold as the government recalibrates and seeks advice on next steps.
Last month, the Prime Minister addressed criticism that he was slow to act head-on, insisting that he and his government are “taking action”.
‘We want to do what we can to close the gap in education, health, housing, on all these issues, which is what the referendum was about.
“However, we accept the result, so we have to approach it in different ways.”
Albanese took responsibility for his role in the referendum, but said he was responding to a request from the First Nations community through the Uluru Heart Statement for constitutional recognition.