Five years ago, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was proclaimed by representatives of Aboriginal peoples from across the nation. The statement asserts the sovereignty of Aboriginal people over the Australian continent and its adjacent lands. It affirms that this sovereignty has never been ceded or extinguished and that it co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
The statement seeks three reforms to empower Aboriginal people to take our rightful place in our own Country and to have power over our own destiny.
First, the statement calls for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Australian constitution.
Second, it calls for a Makarrata Commission to supervise the process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations.
And third, the statement endorses processes to ensure truth-telling about our history.
Truth Telling and Treaty
A positive outcome from the Uluru Statement is its entreaty to states and territories to take steps of their own to develop policies on treaty and truth-telling. Here in Tasmania, we must progress both matters, led by Palawa and fully and appropriately resourced by government.
In November 2021, the Gutwein government published the report Pathway to Truth-telling and Treaty. The report has had a mixed reception. It lacked a strong positive outlook and failed to suggest ways forward that can truly ignite discussion and engagement with the Palawa and the broader Tasmanian community. Despite these objections, the report raised the possibility that has never been possible in Tasmania before – the truth and a treaty.
Some of the report’s recommendations that could deliver positive next steps found acceptance in the Palawa community. These are:
- A working group of leading Palawa representatives to begin negotiations for the establishment of truth-telling and treaty commissions, leading to:
- a truth-telling commission whose makeup should be all Palawa, and
- framework legislation establishing a treaty commission comprised predominantly of Palawa.
In his last State of the State report Premier Gutwein provided an update following the release of the Pathway to Truth-telling and Treaty report.
He advised the parliament that, while there were a variety of views, the feedback he had received indicated broad support to develop processes to establish truth-telling and treaty.
He said the feedback was clear that both must be Aboriginal-led and have Aboriginal ownership. He explained that these would not be easy tasks and it would require goodwill from all sides to take these matters forward.
Consequently, he decided that the next step would be to establish an Aboriginal advisory body, which would work with the government through a co-design approach to establish both processes.
Premier Gutwein also stated that the government was firm in its view that the truth-telling commission, when established, would not be tasked with determining Aboriginality or eligibility, and that the government remained committed to its current (and what it calls) inclusive eligibility policy.
Taking Aboriginal identity off the table is to again deny Palawa leadership and to impose a white government agenda on our people. It denies the Palawa the right to take part in decision-making in all matters affecting them. Importantly, our identity, who we are, is a crucial part of truth-telling. It goes to the heart of our history, before and after the arrival of the invader, and is key to how we direct our own future.
So, where do things now stand in relation to truth-telling and treaty?
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Roger Jaensch, arranged a meeting on Friday 29 July 2022 for organisations registered with the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) and invited them to send two members from each organisation to attend this meeting. The minister then invited attending organisations to nominate two people each from whom the Minister would choose to sit on his Aboriginal advisory body to develop a government sponsored and organised treaty and truth-telling processes.
The Minister selected an organisational based committee of six people under a set of criteria only known to him in December 2022. This committee does not have the support of the general Palawa community, it was organised and chosen by government and was not community selected. This announced committee does not have the authority, or cultural license to speak on behalf of the Palawa people. This group can be considered as nothing more than a government prop, manipulated to undermine or bypass the Palawa people’s voice.
How then does this government led process fulfill the governments ‘strong’ commitment to a community led and community informed process, where is the Palawa ownership of this process.
From the outset, this state government’s processes from Will Hodgman’s irresponsible ‘re-set’ agenda to Gutwein’s pathway to treaty and truth telling onto the current government’s approach, the Palawa community has not been properly informed, consulted, or provided the opportunity to participate in these processes.
The current process has been totally controlled by Minister Jaensch who has removed any sense or practise of self-determination. Which is a fundamental principle of treaty, and these actions are clearly in breach of the UN’s declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (UNDRIP). The Australian Government announced its support for the Declaration in 2009.
In particular, Part 1: important themes in the declaration and Articles 18, 19, and 33.
Part 1: The main themes are: (i) the right to self-determination; (ii) the right to be recognised as distinct peoples; (iii) the right to free, prior and informed consent; and (iv) the right to be free of discrimination.
Article 18: Participation in decision-making Indigenous peoples have the right to take part in decision-making in all matters affecting them. This includes the rights of indigenous peoples to select who represents them and to have indigenous decision-making processes respected.
Article 19: Free, prior and informed consent for laws and policies Governments must seek indigenous peoples’ views and opinions and work together with them through their chosen representatives in order to gain their free, prior and informed consent before laws are passed or policies or programs are put in place that will affect indigenous peoples.
Article 33: Identity, membership and citizenship Indigenous peoples have the right to decide what their identity or membership is. They also have the right to decide who their members are according to their own customs and traditions.
The government has become a bully with no moral compass, or compassion. The voices and faces of the Palawa community are being bypassed and silenced, sacrificed on the altar of partisan political expedience.
A pathway to treaty and truth telling must clearly define how we’re going to work together to achieve treaty and truth telling and to keep working together into the future. Treaty and truth telling must be LED by the Palawa community. This is about government making decisions WITH the Palawa community NOT for the Palawa community. If the government ‘partners’ properly with the Palawa community, it’s organisations and leadership then you will get real outcomes and positive progress.