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12 March 1991 - Current

Address by Aboriginal community members
Page 876
28 March 2018
ASSEMBLY Address by Aboriginal community members LIDIA THORPE

Ms THORPE (Northcote) (12:49:17) — I welcome the opportunity to speak today. I would like to acknowledge one of the most senior Gunditjmara elders here today, my grandmother Alma Thorpe, who is feeling the pain and suffering of being excluded from this process from day one. I want to pay my deep respect to the Wurundjeri-willam people, the traditional owners of the land on which we stand. I want to pay my respects and acknowledge that they are not present to even speak on their own country today.

The Wurundjeri clan, like all the other clans of Victoria, have never ceded sovereignty over their land. They have never had justice or reparation for dispossession of their land and the atrocities committed against them during colonisation. To date none of their clan elders have participated in this process. The land we now know as the state of Victoria was once home to roughly 300 sovereign clans. Clans are extended family groups. Each has its own traditional language, ancestors and descendants, lore, belief systems, customs and lands. Due to colonisation, massacres, disease, dispossession and families being torn apart, today only around 100 sovereign clans remain. That is countless people and hundreds of cultures wiped from the face of this earth, and that is just in Victoria.

Many of the cruel and inhumane policies of the Australian and Victorian governments occurred not in the distant past but within the lifetimes of elders still living today. Forced removals of children, high incarceration rates and suicide of Aboriginal people are all live issues today. I draw attention to these things because we all need to take responsibility and own the truth. I believe it is critical to understand what has been lost before we can understand what is required to find justice and proper redress, to heal and create peace between the first peoples of this land and the state of Victoria.

I have campaigned for treaties since I was a kid attending rallies with my nan. I was excited when the government announced it was holding a self-determination forum in 2016 to address this unfinished business. However, since then I and many others have been disappointed by the government's approach. Many sovereign clan elders feel as if they have been sidelined in the consultation in favour of government-appointed officials. They feel the process has been fast-tracked and tailored to suit the government's agenda. This is not true self-determination, nor is it in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. We must ensure consultation and negotiation between the two parties is on an equal footing and respects family clan law. Sovereign clans and their elders are the law in our culture, so a proper treaties process involves clans self-determining what is just and fair for their communities.

Today the Greens have launched a campaign to ensure the treaty process embarked on by this government is done right and delivers meaningful benefits to the grassroots communities. Amongst other things we are supporting the creation of a clan elders council on treaty. We will do whatever we can to ensure that the clans and their elders have a voice and can shape this process. Without the sovereign clans' involvement, without their full, prior and informed consent every step of the way in this process, it will ultimately fail. It will lead to a token process and will change nothing. Victoria has the opportunity to set the bar for treaties in this country. Australia might be the only commonwealth country without a treaty agreement with its first peoples, but there is yet to be an overseas example where it has been done with complete success. We now have that opportunity.

This is not going to be easy. The government must work hard to build trust and overcome the hurt many feel after so many years of injustice, but this is the work that must be done. This is the work we must all do together. Every single person in this Parliament and the whole Victorian community must be united in striving for the best outcome. Let the healing begin.