Australia is the only Commonwealth nation without a treaty with its First Peoples. A treaty would be a legally binding agreement between the government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with clauses regarding sovereignty, self-determination, customary law and land rights. Treaty/ies are widely viewed as a way to foster empowerment, healing and self-determination, and is widely supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

While many prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been speaking out about the need for a treaty for many years, calls for a treaty have largely gone unacknowledged by various Australian governments. With progress being made in other states and territories it is timely for NSW to consider how treaty processes might work in NSW, and what individuals, communities and organisations can do to support this process.

In March 2018 the Victorian Parliament became the first to introduce treaty legislation.  Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher has recently announced the name and structure of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria which will support Victorian Aboriginal communities to negotiate treaty/ies.  Katherine-born Yawuru man Professor Mick Dodson has been appointed as Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner, after the Government and the Territory’s four Aboriginal land councils signed the Barunga Agreement — a memorandum of understanding outlining the path towards treaty negotiations.  Discussions are also underway in Queensland.  The South Australian Government had commenced treaty negotiations with Traditional Owners before a change of government paused negotiations until outcomes of a review.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said that a Labor government would consider signing a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should they form government in 2019.

To find out more about what agreement making might mean for our government and community in NSW listen to the podcast series from our 2018 Reconciliation in Parliament event at NSW Parliament House.

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