The Northern Territory government has released a landmark treaty report, outlining a pathway to self-determination for Aboriginal people through legally binding treaties.
The final treaty report recommends many individual treaties between the government and First Nations groups
It says the fundamental objective should be as much self-determination as possible
The NT government will provide a formal response by the end of the year
If its recommendations are honoured, the report could lay the foundation for significant new decision-making powers for Indigenous people, who make up a third of the territory’s population.
The 180-page document, released after years of consultation, says the fundamental aim of any treaty agreements should be to give Indigenous people as much self-determination as possible.
The report recommends a process for Indigenous people to transition to First Nation governments.
Acting Treaty Commissioner and respected Indigenous barrister Tony McAvoy, who stepped into the role last December, said that would in turn ease high rates of disadvantage.
“When Aboriginal communities [and] Aboriginal organisations design and deliver the services for Aboriginal people, those services are the most effective at that time,” the Wirdi man said.
“What these recommendations do is allow for Aboriginal governments to deliver services to their communities.
“My expectation is we would see a significant change in the levels of disadvantage if we’re able to ensure those governments are supported and properly resourced to do the work.”
The report states that First Nation governments would initially operate similar to local governments, before taking on wider responsibilities.
To get there, the report recommends facilitating multiple treaties with First Nations groups, an overarching territory-wide agreement guiding treaty negotiations, and a First Nations forum of Indigenous organisations to endorse a treaty model.
It says possible treaty outcomes could also include self-government, economic independence and reparations.
Key pieces of work, including the territory-wide agreement, ahead of in-depth treaty negotiations are expected to have concluded in three years.
“The Northern Territory government, in the briefings I’ve conducted, appreciates that the timing is right for this type of reform.”
Years of consultation in remote NT
Treaties struck between governments and Aboriginal groups are intended to address historical conflicts with various legally binding settlements.
The treaty process began from a government perspective in June 2018, when the Northern Territory government pledged to work towards a treaty with Indigenous people.
Then Chief Minister Michael Gunner signed a memorandum of understanding with the NT’s four land councils.
The document was inked in the remote community of Barunga, 30 years after Indigenous leaders presented a statement calling for better rights to then prime minister Bob Hawke in the same location.
‘A very important first step’
The Treaty Commission, established the next year, then covered tens of thousands of kilometres as it travelled to 135 remote communities as part of a widespread consultation process.
Other recommendations in the final report include:
- Expanding the Treaty Commission to become a Treaty and Truth Commission to progress truth-telling work across the NT
- Creating an Aboriginal Ombudsman position to respond to complaints about government participation in the Treaty process
- Establishing a First Nations Treaty Tribunal to deal with First Nation disputes
- A raft of legislative reforms to pave the way to treaties
The document calls on the government to back the report as a first step and begin work honouring its recommendations.
The government will provide an interim response in the coming months and a formal response by the end of the year.
Mr McAvoy said he was not concerned that the significant nature of some proposals would make it harder to get government support.
“The government expressed a willingness to engage with the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory in the Barunga agreement in 2018,” he said.
“This work that is being released today is another step in the delivery of the promises made in 2018.
“The overwhelming support for a process of treaties for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory is something that the government should take to heart and should act upon with speed.”
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