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Victoria passes Australia’s first Aboriginal treaty bill

Victoria has passed Australia’s first treaty bill, setting up a path so the government can one day ratify agreements with Aboriginal people

The Victorian government is one step closer to ratifying agreements with Aboriginal people, after the state passed Australia’s first treaty bill.

The Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Bill 2018 passed the Legislative Council late on Thursday night.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins said the bill’s passing was a historic moment that will improve the lives of Aboriginal Victorians and allow the state to recognise their unique status, rights, cultures and histories.

“Aboriginal Victorians will continue to be at the centre of this process, as we work towards establishing the Aboriginal Representative Body,” she said in a statement.

“Treaty will have benefits for all Victorians – promoting reconciliation, fostering shared pride in Aboriginal culture and helping to heal the wounds of the past.”

The legislation allows for the creation of a representative body, elected by Aboriginal Victorians by mid-2019, which will help design the treaty negotiation framework.

The treaty process has been years in the making, consulting with more than 7500 Aboriginal Victorians.

Leader of the government in the Legislative Council Gavin Jennings had told the chamber there had been a “sorry history associated with the last 200 years” of colonisation and the first peoples of Australia were “worthy of respect and not treated with respect”.

“There is unfinished business in this nation of addressing those matters that should never have come to be,” Mr Jennings said.

“We want to create a safe space in the first instance for Aboriginal people to determine the way in which we would right the wrongs of the past and deliver justice.

“We are not convinced you can wait for a national process that has never, ever delivered in relation to righting these wrongs.”

The bill will go to the Legislative Assembly when parliament resumes in late July as a formality before being signed off by the governor.

The treaty process has been years in the making, consulting with more than 7500 Aboriginal Victorians.

While supporting the legislation through parliament, the Greens have pushed throughout the whole process for greater recognition of individual clans.

Leader Samantha Ratnam attempted to make several amendments to the bill on Thursday, including amending clause one of the bill to change the term “Aboriginal Victorians” to “clans and first nations”.

“If this clause remains as is, then the treaty process will be open to any Aboriginal person to negotiate and make agreement with the state whether they are a senior representative of their clan and first nation or they came to Victoria yesterday,” leader Samantha Ratnam told parliament.

None of the Greens’ amendments were successful.

Victorian Greens Aboriginal Affairs spokeswoman Lidia Thorpe said the party welcomed the legislation passing but would also continue to push for clan sovereignty to be recognised as the process moves ahead.

“What form this takes must be self-determined by each clan and negotiated with the Victorian government.”

The coalition did not support the bill, believing treaty should be done on a national level instead.

Liberal MP Bernie Finn said a state treaty was more likely to create “fodder for lawyers” than anything else.

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