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  • Writer's pictureSerena O'Meley

3AW Tom Elliott - Interview with Terry Mason on Treaty

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

2 May 2019

From 38'51" to 45'40".

Tom: Now, this is something that has been bubbling away for 3 years now, maybe 4 years. Now last year in June, so almost a year ago, Victoria became the first state in Australia to pass legislation for an Indigenous Treaty.

Now I met the man who was initially responsible for negotiating the Treaty. He was a former AFL footballer of Indigenous background. I don't believe he is doing it now. But he did say to me several years ago that there is something like 30 or 31 separate tribes you could still identify in Victoria, and somehow, they were going to get all 31 tribes and the State Government to agree on a Treaty. Now what was in the Treaty he couldn't say; he probably didn't know back then.

It turns out 33 elected representatives from 5 different areas have to be voted in. This is a thing called the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria. Over the next two days, discussions are going to be held with various Elders, tribes, and Aboriginal representatives about sovereignty, constitutional recognition and this Treaty.

Joining us on the line now Curriculum Developer, and member of the National Tertiary Education Union Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee. Terry Mason, good afternoon.

Terry: Good afternoon, Tom.

Tom: How long has this Treaty been talked about. I reckon it has been bubbling along for quite a long time now.

Terry: This current move has been bubbling along about that long.

Treaty has a longer history in Australia and most people are not aware of it. Sax Bannister in 1837, he was the Governor General in NSW had proposed the idea of a Treaty and felt it was important.

And indeed, Governor Arthur, in Tasmania, despite his chequered history with Aboriginal people also said it would be one of the greatest travesties in Australian history that we didn't have a Treaty. So what we are seeing now is a set of conversations around the concept of Treaty, in a modern world, in a modern environment, and how that may work. So it's not something new, it's a long history that is coming to a different fruition.

Tom: Ok but it's new in the sense that we have never had one before, and now we are moving towards having one. I know there was an attempt Federally to do a similar thing with the constitution but that appears to be abandoned now.

Can you give us any ideas about what sorts of discussions? What sorts of ideas are being put forward that might be included in a Treaty between the various Indigenous Peoples of Victoria and the State Government?

Terry: There are ongoing conversations with the clans around Victoria, at the moment, and the government. There are some issues around that. Many of the people who might want to be involved are not necessarily being involved because the government is tending to lean towards negotiations with people from Aboriginal organisations - many of which are government-funded.

Tom: Ahhh....

Terry: A lot of Aboriginal people are feeling a little uncomfortable about the depth of representation. But that's something that there is time for us to sort out.

It's also a situation that we need to have the conversations amongst Aboriginal peoples around Victoria, first, to gather the background of their concepts around, Treaty, and sovereignty and self-determination, and have something more solid to bring to the wider community. And I think that is one of the frustrations for the wider community at the moment that many are ignorant of what may be in a Treaty or their potential involvement.

Tom: Can I just stop you there? I mean, you say people are ignorant about it...we're ignorant about it because no one has told us about us. I've tried to make enquires and no one will say what form the Treaty might take.

Terry: That's because it's still in that initial stage of pulling quite a wide variety of experiences and autonomous Peoples together to see what form a Treaty or Treaties may take.

Tom: Ok. Can I ask you, is it true that there are 30 separate tribes, for want of a better word, represented at the Treaty talks?

Terry: Clans would probably be a better word. There are more than 30 clans, yes.

Tom: I mean trying to get 30 different groups all to agree one thing is like herding cats, is it not?

Terry: No, it is not in this case, because most of those people would have similar concepts about what is required in a Treaty.

You look at your councils around Melbourne - yes they all fight like cats...and dogs...over resources and what they may wish to implement in their area. But they have commonalities in what they must apply.

Tom: Well, that's true, that's true.

[Squeaking noises]

Terry: I apologise if you can hear my dog; it's time for his walk and he is playing with his squeaky toys in the background.

Narah walking in Terry's shadow

Tom: We'll let you go in a moment.

You mentioned sovereignty and self-determination. Is Treaty going to create a nation within a state? I mean might we end up with a chunk of Victoria which is solely for Indigenous people or something like that?

Terry: Ah look, that will come out of the discussions. There are a whole load of issues that could come up within the Treaty. There may be an overall concept of a Treaty state wide and there may be more localised Treaty outcomes. In certain areas, there will be robust land rights; I mean, they are already existing in some areas. So there may be a localised Treaty there that does concern land rights and resources and self-determinations around those. That would be a different situation, say, than an overall Victorian Treaty which has different concepts. We may be looking at several models there, that are specific, and that's a good protection for everyone.

Tom: Ok, and finally, do we have a timeline as to when a final Treaty or possibly Treaties will be sort of presented to the State Parliament?

Terry: I'm not aware of that, because I'm not on that committee, but many of us feel that slower is better, in some cases. The Nisga’a people in British took them, heaven forbid it would take that long here because there's a lot of examples to draw on...25 years to get it right.

Tom: Ohh....!

Terry: So it is more important to get this right for all people in Victoria, than it is to rush it. It's more about outcomes for my grandchildren's grandchildren than me. I'll be dead probably before the results come through.

Tom: Well Terry, before you die we'll let you go and take your dog for a walk! <laughs>

Terry Mason there, member of the National Tertiary Education Union, for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Policy Committee.

Hmmm. Well he did talk about control of land and resources. That suggests that there could be a transfer of wealth perhaps, a significant transfer of wealth from the state government of Victoria, maybe to over 30 Indigenous clans in this state.

Ok, what do you reckon?

I mean, he used the term that people are ignorant of this Treaty; we're ignorant because no one will say anything.

You know Daniel Andrews is very good about my government is doing this and we're doing that, and we're building this and opening that.

On this issue, which could be important...what if they carve off one quarter of Victoria and say this belongs to Indigenous people now?

We just don't know.


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