Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018

Written on the 19 June 2018

19 June 2018


Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

Debate resumed from 8 June; motion of Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State).


I am pleased to be able to rise and speak to the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018 this evening. I do so because it is an important debate and this issue is an important issue for many, many people. It is an important debate that we are having in the Parliament on this issue. I note that the preamble and introduction to the legislation which has been brought before the Parliament states that this is:

a bill for an act to advance the treaty process between Aboriginal Victorians and the state by providing for the recognition of the Aboriginal Representative Body, enshrining the guiding principles for the treaty process and requiring the Aboriginal Representative Body and the state to work together to establish elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations and for other purposes.

So I think that has been made very clear. There are various elements to the bill, and they are the establishment of an Aboriginal Representative Body to negotiate treaty; the establishment of general guiding principles for the treaty process; the establishment of a treaty authority, which will be a so-called independent umpire, to be established by agreement; the setting up of a treaty negotiation framework by agreement; and the establishment of a self-determination treaty progression fund to be administered by the established Aboriginal Representative Body.

I note that in the other place, the Legislative Assembly, when this bill was introduced there were a number of respected Indigenous Victorians that came onto the floor and spoke about the process and about the importance of treaty, and I want to acknowledge the efforts of all people that have been involved in the preparation of this bill. I understand that they have worked incredibly hard in relation to what they are trying to achieve. I also note that on that day various concerns were raised in various parts of the debate by MPs and that their concerns were very well considered in their contributions. There was, I note, a Greens member who had some concerns about who had been involved with the process and various things, and I will come back to that a bit later.

Overall I think in relation to what this bill is trying to achieve, and as my colleague Mr Bull in the Assembly and others have said

Mr Davis interjected.

Ms CROZIER Indeed, Mr Davis, he is a very good man. Representing the part of Victoria that he does, he understands and has worked with many Aboriginal communities in the eastern part of the state and in the Gippsland area, and he is very committed to advancing all efforts in relation to closing the gap. He stated this very eloquently in his second-reading debate contribution because of course he is the former minister and has a great knowledge of the concerns Aboriginal communities and the Victorian Indigenous community as a whole have in relation to a number of areas where we need to improve outcomes for Indigenous Victorians.

I might add that when Mr Bull was minister and I was Parliamentary Secretary for Health for Mr Davis we worked closely together. I recall going to a number of Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (VACCHOs) around the state. They were numerous and all very much looked at what they represent. If you look at the VACCHOs themselves, there are a number, and many of them were doing some great work. I recall visiting some in the western parts of Victoria, up along the Murray, in the eastern parts of Victoria and right across the state in relation to looking at health and wellbeing outcomes. I know that others on this side, and I think all members actually, very much support improved health and wellbeing outcomes for Indigenous Victorians.

There were some great responses from those local communities about what they were doing with their local Indigenous communities to advance health and wellbeing outcomes, as I said. It was a great pleasure to go and meet with them to understand what they are actually doing, to see the progress they are making in various aspects and to understand the challenges they often have as well. They spoke of those challenges very freely. Some would be doing various health initiatives that could apply to anyone across the state. I want to congratulate them for the work they did and continue to do, because they are doing various projects and they are undertaking various pieces of research in relation to aspects that affect Aboriginal people, especially children. We need to be looking at the vulnerabilities that children might have in some of those health areas of concern and addressing them so we give them the best opportunities we can as they advance through their childhood into their teen years and then of course into their adult lives.

Whilst I am on that, certainly we all know in this house that there are many young Indigenous Victorians who are overrepresented in various aspects of our youth justice system who have been caught up in that. We all want to strive for and see an improved outcome for those young Victorians for any young Victorians that get caught up in the youth justice system for that matter so they can understand that they have opportunities and they can improve their outcomes. We can certainly do that as well.

I note from the youth justice inquiry that was recently concluded by the Legal and Social Issues Committee that it was very clear that some of the key findings highlighted these aspects. The report states:

Koori young people are more than 16 times more likely to be on a youth justice order.

In 201516, 16 per cent of all young people who received a community or custody youth justice order identified as Koori.

Between 200607 and 201516, Koori overrepresentation in Victoria rose from 9.7 to 13.2 times the rate of nonKoori young people in youth justice.

They are clear findings. I think we all want to do better. We want to address those issues. As is often spoken about, we want to close the gap so that overrepresentation does not continue on that trajectory that I just spoke of, because it is increasing and all of us need to be addressing those concerns and doing better. I acknowledge that, and I know that another extensive report, the Armytage and Ogloff report, also identified some of these concerning figures and the trajectories that these young people are on.

I do not think it is any surprise for any government that we all want to improve the outcomes for these young people. We all do, and we are seeing that from governments at all levels. While that is the aim for all of us in these places in parliaments around Australia we know that the national approach has been very significant. There has been a lot of concentration and effort in looking at how we can close the gap. Part of that has been through various initiatives, and I refer to things like the national apology, which was undertaken by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2007. In his apology he said:

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

I think that is very widely felt amongst all Australians in terms of some of the past history and the past elements that have occurred for various Indigenous clans and Indigenous people. I think we all acknowledge that, and we are all striving, as I said, to close the gap and get some better outcomes not only for vulnerable Indigenous children and young people in Victoria but for all vulnerable children and young people in Victoria, I would have to say.

There has been a lot of concentration on treaty. It has been around and discussed for quite some time, in fact decades. We need to understand and recognise that at a national level, where so much work is being undertaken and where there has been so much work undertaken that, as Mr Bull pointed out in his contribution, any treaty process should be taken at that federal level. Currently we have a federal joint select committee that is looking into this very issue because of its importance and because of what recent initiatives by various governments have been about.

That joint select committee is due to table an interim report in July this year, and its final report is to be handed down later in November of this year. The Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples will inquire into and report on matters relating to constitutional change. I will just read this out because it takes into consideration what we are discussing here today. The reason I am saying this is that that national approach is looking at the various issues that we are debating here today. In conducting the inquiry, the committee will:

(a)    consider the recommendations of the Referendum Council (2017), the Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017), the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2015), and the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians (2012);

(b)   examine the methods by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are currently consulted and engaged on policies and legislation which affects them, and consider if, and how, self-determination can be advanced, in a way that leads to greater local decision-making, economic advancement and improved social outcomes;

(c)    recommend options for constitutional change and any potential complementary legislative measures which meet the expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and which will secure cross-party parliamentary support and the support of the Australian people;

(d)   ensure that any recommended options are consistent with the four criteria of referendum success set out in the Final Report of the Expert Panel on Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution.

In that, it is to:

(i)    contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation;

(ii)   be of benefit to and accord with the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

(iii)  be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the political and social spectrums; and

(iv)  be technically and legally sound;

(v)   engage with key stakeholders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations; and

(vi)  advise on the possible steps that could be taken to ensure the referendum has the best possible chance of success, including proposals for a constitutional convention or other mechanism for raising awareness in the broader community.

Whilst I recognise that this is a far broader issue than that joint parliamentary committee is looking at, it is looking at the issue of self-determination, which is essentially what the treaty and other aspects of this current bill that we are discussing here tonight are about.

I wanted to just put that into this debate because I think it is important to understand what is happening at the national level. Should the report of that committee that is going to be handed down in November have elements in it that will impact on Victoria, as well as the rest of the states and territories across the nation, then of course we want it to be something that is unified and, as the committee's terms of reference say very clearly, will 'contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation'. I think that is incredibly important when we are discussing this very issue because not only do we want to improve those outcomes of closing the gap but we want all people to be unified in one voice. That is, I think, extremely important in the context of a whole range of issues that arise today.

It was only a few months ago that the Prime Minister and the federal Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, were talking about and coming to an agreement on how they could advance this process, so it is very important that the committee has the ability to receive those submissions. I understand that submissions to the committee only closed a few days ago. I think it was literally a week or so ago. I am sure that many people who were involved in the process here in Victoria in relation to speaking to the government about the process of this debate we are having in looking at a treaty will also be submitting to the inquiry. We have to put that into the perspective of the impact this will have, because if we have a disjointed process and if we have a state-by-state approach where the Northern Territory is doing one thing, as opposed to Tasmania, as opposed to Victoria, as opposed to the ACT we are not going to have that unified voice that I spoke about earlier.

I note the New South Wales government's concerns about it. They have stated that their position is that any process leading towards a treaty or treaties with Aboriginal people must be led by the commonwealth government, because as they state:

The NSW government understands that the commonwealth government is actively considering issues related to self-determination through a bipartisan parliamentary joint select committee.

That is the point I want to make, because that joint parliamentary committee is made up of members of all parties independent, Labor, Liberal, Greens and they are looking at these very issues. That will impact on us here in Victoria. That is why the opposition has made its position very clear we do not support this bill at this point in time.

Some concerns have been raised by other parties in relation to this bill. I note that there has been various commentary around that. Earlier I referred to the concerns of the member for Northcote in the other place, Ms Thorpe, who spoke of how nations and clans continue to express strong concern about the state-run treaty processes and outcomes to date that are 'disappearing clans', and the Victorian Traditional Owner Land Justice Group made their point on this very clear in various media releases after this bill was introduced in the lower house. The group, which I think from memory Ms Thorpe was referring to in her contribution, was concerned about some of the issues around the clans and how they had been consulted or, in this case, not consulted that a number of people in the process were not consulted thoroughly. I know that some of those issues were teased out in the consideration-in-detail stage in the lower house as well, and certainly in the committee stage there are some more questions to be asked for the government to answer on this very issue of consultation.

The Victorian Traditional Owner Land Justice Group, in their media release of 6 June, stated a number of concerns. Their major concern about the consultation and negotiation was that:

The government process has been bureaucratically controlled, one-sided and akin to assimilation.

I am not going to go into this. I am sure we will hear the Greens' own views on this. They would have been speaking to various individuals in relation to those concerns and will be putting their arguments forward in a few minutes time. But my point is that I do not think we have that one united voice when it comes to this process, and I think that is incredibly important if we are going to see success. If we want to see success in closing the gap, in getting those better outcomes whether they are achieving better economic participation and giving all Indigenous Victorians greater job opportunities or closing the gap in terms of the health issues that arise with some Indigenous people, in particular young people then we have to be looking at that.

I think that is what we need to be doing. We need to be all at one here, and the best avenue for doing that is through the federal process that is being undertaken now. I think we need to wait and understand what is happening with that joint parliamentary committee, with all of those submissions that they would have received by now going through those public hearings that they are conducting, and understand the issues around all of those elements, including self-determination.

I note that there were also concerns raised by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee. They wrote to the minister in relation to a number of issues around various clauses, and the minister wrote back. The various aspects that they spoke to in their report relate to recognition of the Aboriginal Representative Body and the functions of the Aboriginal Representative Body. They specifically looked at clause 8 of the bill, which they said appears to limit the representation of Aboriginal Victorians in setting up the supports for the treaty negotiation process to the Aboriginal Representative Body that is to be created under the act. I know the minister did write back, but there were certainly some concerns there that I think also raise questions about future treaty negotiations that might be undertaken if and when this bill is passed. They are considerations that need to be teased out, and I am sure we will have more to say in the committee stage.

I was pleased that the committee did actually write to the minister and point out various issues not only those but more and I will not go through the details of those. But they did want to understand or get clarification from the minister about the compatibility of clauses 21, 22 and 24 with the charter of human rights and whether there were any issues around that. As I said, I do note that the minister did write back, and in her letter she was satisfied that every element that the committee had raised had been addressed and would not be an issue.

I wanted to just also put on record because as I said at the outset this is an important debate I think a lot has been undertaken over various years and decades. Of course we have seen many advancements and even, if I can say, during the last government, of which I was a member, there were various considerations taken by the former Attorney-General, Robert Clark, in extending the Koori courts and in recognising various aspects in relation to Koori representation in the courts. Minister Wooldridge, at the time, set up the first Aboriginal commissioner for children and young people in Andrew Jackomos, and that was also of great significance. We have got a proud record.

I was talking to Ms Bath earlier about the work that she has been doing with some of her local Aboriginal communities in giving them recognition and assisting with an initiative in various areas relating to Return of the Firestick, which will help to rebuild and reinforce valuable ancient cultural knowledge of Victoria's Indigenous peoples in the land management space. If you look back in history and understand what the Aboriginal peoples did in managing the land, they did understand that Australia had droughts, it had floods and at times that fire management needed to be undertaken; certainly that is well recognised. So there is a great effort going on in terms of those Indigenous communities, because of their knowledge and understanding of fire management, having a say in that. I think that is very sound and a considerable recognition of the work that many Aboriginal people understand and do already. It will give them a greater ability to have that land management expertise and work on that.

As we know, environmental burning and traditional fire practices can protect and rejuvenate vegetation, ecosystems and various environmental assets across the state. Coming from far western Victoria, I certainly understand that, as you would, Acting President Purcell. Western Victoria is very fire-prone and there have been significant fires in recent times. We can tell from past history and from the beautiful landscapes what has gone on decades and hundreds of years before us. We understand that work, and I think that is a terrific policy announcement that was announced a few weeks ago. I would like to place on record the work of Ms Bath and others in getting that policy to the fore and for understanding that that is very significant for many local Indigenous communities and people.

I did want to make mention in the final few moments that I have got that we on this side of the house have a very proud history of Indigenous representation in the parliaments. Of course I am referring to Senator Neville Bonner, who was a senator in the federal Parliament from 1971 to 1983, and the Honourable Ken Wyatt, currently the federal Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister for Aged Care. Many of you will also remember our former colleague Mrs Andrea Coote, who is working with Minister Wyatt on a range of issues. She speaks very highly of his extraordinary devotion and commitment to improving health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. I think that is something, and I know the other parties will also recognise the various Aboriginal representatives in our party.

The Liberal Party has a proud history of having the first Indigenous representation in the federal Parliament. In the course of this debate it is always good to remind ourselves where we have come from and to understand some of the terrible circumstances that did occur for many Aboriginals in former decades and centuries. People will have strong feelings about that I understand that and respect that but when we are talking about a treaty process here in Victoria for Victorians, again I would have to say that we do have to recognise the work that is being undertaken at a national level. We on this side of the house understand that it is important to work through these issues. That is why the joint parliamentary committee at the federal level and the federal approach is the most important way forward in relation to this very issue that we are debating here this evening.

Together with my other colleagues, I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate, but as I said at the outset, we will not be supporting this legislation. We believe that it is better placed to be undertaken at a federal level.



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