The Australian state of Victoria has taken the first official step towards signing a treaty with its Aboriginal peoples. It is the first time any Australian parliament has passed laws that commit to a future accord with Indigenous groups.
Aboriginal leaders hope a treaty with the state of Victoria will deliver political and economic benefits. The vote in state parliament is the first step in what could be a long process, but campaigners have said it was a “watershed moment.” The Northern Territory and Western Australia have also promised similar action towards their own treaties with Indigenous tribes. Critics have argued, however, that efforts should focus on a national Aboriginal accord, rather than individual state agreements.
But Pat Dodson, an Indigenous Senator for Western Australia, is happy that progress is finally be made.
“This is something we have to solve if we are going to have honor and integrity as a nation as well as bring about justice and recognition and respect for the First Nations people,” said Dodson.
Talk of treaties with Indigenous Australia is not new.
In 1988, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised a treaty with the nation’s original inhabitants.
“There shall be a treaty negotiated between the Aboriginal people and the government on behalf of all the people of Australia,” he said.
But the former prime minister’s promise was not fulfilled because of various concerns over the implications of an official accord, including financial compensation.
Australia is the only Commonwealth country, a grouping of nations with ties to the former British Empire, that does not have a treaty with its original inhabitants. Canada and New Zealand have formal agreements with their Indigenous peoples that include compensation for past injustices as well as land and fishing rights.
Indigenous Australians make up about 3 per cent of the country’s population and suffer high rates of poverty, ill-health and imprisonment. Campaigners believe a formal treaty could provide practical help in areas such as health and education.