A treaty between the Northern Territory and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has inched a step closer with the appointment of Professor Mick Dodson as the NT’s first Treaty Commissioner.
Professor Dodson, a Yawuru man who was Australian of the Year in 2009, is a long term advocate for land rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and has worked as a solicitor, barrister, counsel assisting during the Aboriginal deaths in custody royal commission, and academic.
‘I want to congratulate the NT Government for initiating this very important treaty process,’ he said.
‘Anyone who has listened to me talk publicly knows that I am concerned with what I call “the unfinished business”. A treaty is a good place to start with addressing this unfinished business.
‘We as a nation must come face to face with our dark and traumatic history. We must confront the impact of colonisation and begin the process of acknowledgement, recognition and healing. The NT has embarked on dealing with this task by this courageous step of setting up this Commission.
‘I was born in the NT and lived and worked here for over half my life, so I feel well equipped for this role. I know it’s a tough challenge, however I am looking forward to talking to Northern Territorians and sharing their views on where we go to from here.’
Professor Dodson’s role
According to AAP, he will be asked to determine:
- what a Northern Territory treaty will seek to achieve
- whether there should be one or multiple treaties
- the best model for a treaty in the Northern Territory
- what outcomes are possible under a treaty for Aboriginal people and what process is best for negotiating a treaty.
He will be responsible for:
- consultation with Aboriginal people on their support for a treaty, including representative bodies and community groups
- developing a suitable framework to further treaty negotiations with the Northern Territory government
- recommending the best model of Aboriginal representation in any future treaty negotiations
- ensure non-Aboriginal Territorians are informed of the process.
Professor Dodson’s appointment was welcomed by all four NT land councils involved in the treaty process.
Some progress in Victoria
The Northern Territory joins Victoria as jurisdictions which have made some slow progress towards a treaty. Victoria has started with process of working towards a treaty by passing the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 and appointing Jill Gallagher as Treaty Advancement Commissioner.
In South Australia, treaty negotiations started with a number of different Aboriginal groups, including the Ngarrindjeri, Narungga and Adnyamathanha communities. A Treaty Commissioner, Dr Roger Thomas, was appointed in February 2017, but the treaty process was scrapped in June 2018 by the incoming Liberal government.
Labor parties in Tasmania, NSW and Queensland have said they would be open to treaties if they won power.
Federally, the Uluru Statement from the Heart seeks ‘a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations’, and also requires truth-telling about Australia’s history. It was rejected by the Liberal Government, but retains strong support in the community.
Support for reconciliation growing
The appointment of Professor Dodson comes a week after Reconciliation Australia found that ‘support for reconciliation and for a greater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander say in their own affairs continues to strengthen’.
In its 2018 Australian Recognition Barometer, Reconciliation Australia found:
- 94% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and 90% of other Australians feel the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Australians is important
- 70% of other Australians in the general community believe that Australia is better off with many cultural groups (up from 66% in 2016)
- 51% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe that Australia is a racist country (down from 57% in 2016), compared with 38% of the general community (39% in 2016)
- 86% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (90% in 2016) and 62% of other Australians (60% in 2016) say they are proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
But it also found that more Aboriginal and Torres Islander people feel they cannot be true to their cultures or personal beliefs in a number of different settings, including:
- 19% in interactions with government departments (13% in 2016).
- 25% in interactions with police and courts (16% in 2016)
- 19% at work (10% in 2016).
The CEO of Reconciliation Australia, Karen Mundine, said the barometer showed a steady strengthening of the indicators for reconciliation and improved relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
‘Among these indicators is the encouraging fact that 90% of Australians believe in the central tenet of our reconciliation efforts, that the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is important, and that 79% agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are important to Australia’s national identity,’ she said.
‘Almost all Australians (95%) believe that “it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say in matters that affect them” and 80% believe it is important to “undertake formal truth-telling processes”, with 86% believing it is important to learn about past issues.
‘More Australians than ever before feel a sense of pride for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; this has risen to 62% from 50% in 2008 when the first barometer was conducted,’ she said.
• For more on the Reconciliation Australia report, read this indepth coverage by Marie McInerney at Croakey last week.