Treaty negotiations to start in 2023

November 8, 2022 BY

Member for Geelong Christine Couzens (top right) looks on as acting Minister for Treaty and First Peoples Colin Brooks signs the Treaty framework beside First Peoples' Assembly co-chair Marcus Stewart (left). Photo: FIRST PEOPLES' ASSEMBLY OF VICTORIA

GEELONG MP Christine Couzens was among those who witnessed the historic signing of an agreement between Victoria and First Peoples that paves the way for Treaty negotiations to start in 2023.

The agreed framework sets out the ground rules for negotiating Treaties between the state and First Peoples and includes both a statewide treaty with all First Peoples in Victoria and individual Treaties with local Traditional Owner groups; the first of its kind in Australia.

Signed on the banks of the Yarra on Wurundjeri Country in Melbourne with the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria – the representative body for First Peoples – Ms Couzens said it was a moment she never expected to see occur.

“It was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had in this government… all Victorians should be proud,” she said.

“I’ve watched over the past four years the establishment of the First Peoples Assembly, the various legislation that has been passed through State Parliament, I was there at the treaty signing along the Yarra River… thinking about that now, I would never have expected that to happen in my lifetime.”

As Parliamentary Secretary for First Peoples, Ms Couzens is politically invested in the Treaty process, but it is also deeply personal for her.

“My late husband was a Gunditjmara man, and I’m sure he’s up there smiling because he would never have thought that this would happen,” she said.

Included in the announcement was a state funding commitment of $65 million to establish a Self-determination Fund to provide First Peoples with a financial resource to ensure Treaty negotiations are fair and equitable.

The fund means Traditional Owner groups such as the Wadawurrung are better equipped to prepare and push forward with regional Treaty negotiations.

“It could be one Treaty, it could be a number of Treaties, depending on what they put forward as a Traditional Owner group,” Ms Couzens said.

“It could be a vast number of things. I tend to avoid talking about what it might be because it’s not up to me to make those decisions, it’s up to the Wadawurrung to decide how they want to move forward.”

First Peoples’ Assembly Co-Chair Aunty Geraldine Atkinson said she could not be happier with the agreement.

“We have a clear pathway forward.

“We all want to get on with creating a better future together as equals, but to do that, we need Treaty to help us rebalance the relationship and we need to eliminate the unfair burden that Aboriginal people have been carrying since invasion.”