Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:47): I am just so pleased to rise to speak to this bill. This is a really significant occasion, but it is one that is long overdue—hundreds and hundreds of years overdue. The action of this Parliament today truly does mark respect for the traditional owners of this land. As I said in my address-in-reply to the Governor’s speech at the start of this term, in acknowledging the Wurundjeri people and the Woiwurrung people of the Kulin nation, during the 59th Parliament I hoped that we would pay the ultimate respect of a fair and fulsome treaty process. Almost four years on, I am glad that we are here truly paying respect to the traditional owners of this land by changing the Victorian law in this way. And I pay my respects to the elders that have given so much to get us to this point, to those present here today and to those emerging and to those that will follow. I would also like to particularly acknowledge and thank the First Peoples’ Assembly and their co-chairs, Aunty Geri Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, for their work and their briefings to me and to my office. Such an important precursor to this bill the First Peoples’ Assembly was.
This bill, as many others have said, is as important a bill as we have ever seen before this Parliament. This is not just about words, it is about action—action in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal community. It is an opportunity to address the heartache of the past, to acknowledge a long and incredible Indigenous culture and to work together for a shared future.
First Nations people know what is right for their communities and making the decisions that matter and that make a difference. They know. This is about that connection to country and community.
I would like to quote Marcus Stewart right now:
“There’s overwhelming evidence that shows when First Peoples are in charge of the programs, and policies that affect us and our lives … They succeed.”
As the chair of the Legal and Social Issues Committee, when we have looked at spent convictions, when most recently we have looked at the impact of parental incarceration on children, when we have looked at the criminal justice system and when we have looked at drug law reform it is the voices of the Aboriginal communities that have really shone a light on the way forward—I think none more powerfully than when we were investigating spent convictions.
I put up a bill in this chamber, a private members bill, to address how historical convictions could become life sentences and how we could move on from that. Unbeknownst to me there was this terrific program, the Woor-Dungin project, which was run out of RMIT. This was a program that was run with Indigenous communities around our state. I had an idea about what spent convictions should look like, and I had put a private members bill up to say just that, but after hearing from the Woor-Dungin project and after listening to our First Nations people—who are exponentially affected by our criminal justice system and by what we call out-of-home care, but I am not sure there is much care in it—I completely changed my mind on what the spent convictions would look like, and the report reflected that. I am pleased to say that the government’s response to that report and the subsequent bill that came before this chamber, which was successful, reflected the work of the Woor-Dungin project. There were First Nations people showing us the way, and this is what this process, what treaty, will go on to do.
This bill will allow the Treaty Authority to be established as a truly independent umpire, and this is what Aboriginal communities are saying needs to happen. The creation of the Treaty Authority is a key part of the architecture that will enable treaty-making between First Peoples and the state by acting as an independent umpire for treaty negotiations. The bill will enable the Treaty Authority to operate as a legal entity by conferring on it legal powers and capacities. I actually get a little bit of a shiver when we are saying these words because of what this means and the hundreds of years late that we are in coming to the table for this to happen. Ultimately this will enable traditional owners and First Peoples of Victoria to negotiate future treaties with the Victorian government, with the Victorian people, on a wide range of matters.
Many of us have visited New Zealand—probably less so over the last few years, but I have certainly been fortunate in the last couple of years to travel to New Zealand. I have always just been struck by the relationship between the Māori community and the New Zealand government and how different it is to here in Australia and in Victoria. So like in New Zealand, these treaties that this is the beginning of will cover matters like recognition of historic wrongs and injustices, which we have heard about here today; recognition of self-determination and self-government; rights to access and manage land and resources, health, education and economic development; and rights to practise and revitalise culture, language and heritage. I for one am really looking forward to that—to learning more about the culture of this land that has the oldest living culture in the world.
I am proud to be here today, and I am proud that this state can make this commitment to treaty today. I do not want to finish without quoting the wonderful Aunty Geri Atkinson. She put this out on Twitter maybe even today. She said:
“I’m delighted that our communities have crafted the Treaty umpire in a way that respects our way of doing things and will draw on the wisdom of the oldest living culture in the world.”
I commend this bill wholeheartedly.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 16/8/22