The decision by the Northern Territory government to end the work of its treaty commission, reject some of its key recommendations and delay the negotiation process to hold further consultations on its own has angered some Aboriginal leaders.
- The NZ Government has closed its treaty commission
- Work on contracts will continue without commission
- The government says it will ask its Aboriginal Interpreter Service to begin a truth-telling process
The NT Government published its response to the June 2022 Northern Territory treaty commission recommendations online over Christmas, which included closing the commission and continuing the treaty process without it.
There was no press conference, and the Minister of Agreements, Selina Uibo, did not respond to a request for an interview that day.
Independent Arnhem Land Member of Parliament Yingiya Guyula said he was appalled by the timing of the response.
“The government stole it, quietly during the Christmas holidays so it wouldn’t wake up the public’s ears,” he said.
The Yolngu leader said he felt the $4 million and consultation time was now wasted.
government to hold its own consultations
Former Treaty Commissioners Professor Mick Dodson and Ursula Raymond traveled the territory for more than two years consulting with indigenous communities, asking people how they wanted the dispossession of their land, children and culture to be dealt with and for self-government to return.
In its response, the NT Government said that instead of retaining the commission, it had decided to hold a series of First Nations forums over the next 18 months to two years to “test” whether or not Aboriginal Territorians agreed with the commission’s recommendations, and to close the commission.
“The path to a treaty will … require more work to inform the development of a final treaty-making framework,” the government said.
“Working through these complexities will take time and more thought.
“The government will seek to test the treaty-making framework and approach recommended in the treaty report against the views of Indigenous Territories.”
The government also plans to start a truth-telling process by getting its Aboriginal Interpreter Service to start recording people’s stories.
In contrast, Victoria established a Truth-Telling Commission with five commissioners.
“After those recommendations went through the independent commissioner, the NT government took it back to their own bureaucracy,” Guyula said.
“And now it’s bringing it back into the discussion within the government itself, it’s just going round and round in circles.”
Maningrida traditional owner Reggie Wuridjal was among the Aboriginal leaders who told commissioners he would like to see the treaty progress.
“We don’t make the rules here, the big guns are out there making the laws,” he said.
“We want the treaty to get a good self-governing body and self-determination so that we can do and manage our own affairs.”
Commissioner Tony McAvoy SC presented his report to the NT Government six months ago with high hopes.
“The timing is right for this type of reform,” he said at the time.
“I expect we will see a significant change in the levels of disadvantage.”
“Going in Circles”
Mr Guyula was elected to Parliament in 2016 on a treaty platform by the home community of Yothu Yindi, who wrote the famous Treaty song and won the first national treaty pledge from former Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1988.
“I’m very disappointed with the NT Government’s response, it’s the same old story over and over again with red tape, there’s no commitment to make real change,” he said.
The Treaty Commission recommended a framework for negotiations, an umbrella treaty for the whole of NZ and individual treaties with indigenous peoples, progress towards self-government and a truth-telling process.
She recommended that legislation be passed and funds allocated so that the commission also becomes an expanded Treaty and Truth Commission to continue its work.
The commission also recommended that a First Nations forum be established through which Aboriginal Territories could approve a model treaty and decide how they should be represented in negotiations.
“My people have always said for a long, long time that they are ready, and the commissioner listened,” Mr. Guyula said.
“But the government was not and still is not ready for a contract.”
‘Listen to our voice’
Darwin Larrakia elder Eric Fejo said he was also disappointed.
“It’s really frustrating but not unexpected, but it was an election promise,” he said.
“They’re putting it off after spending millions of dollars just to shut us up because they already had the answer.”
The NT Government provided the ABC with a statement saying it would move towards creating treaties within its Office of Aboriginal Affairs.
“We know that a treaty-based approach has broad support and the benefits it could bring,” he added.
“We always knew that the path to the treaty would be complex and we will deal with those complexities in the coming period.”
Mr Guyula called on both the federal and territorial governments to speed up their contracting processes.
“The federal government and the Northern Territory government need to listen to the Indigenous voice on the ground we are sending to Parliament,” he said.
“Independent Australians who support these treaty processes also need to be heard; it’s not governments who make the final decisions, it’s the people.”
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