Guiding the treaty process in Australia
Compared to other countries, Australia has been slow to engage with treaty and what can be achieved.
The academic co-authors of a new book hope it will become the go-to manual for anyone interested in the treaty process in Australia.
There have been significant developments in Australia since then including the Uluru Statement from the Heart, negotiation and finalisation of the Noongar Settlement in Western Australia and the emergence of state and territory driven treaty processes.
Internationally, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Professor Williams says the debate has fundamentally changed over the last 15 years:
The Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is such a focus of national debate, has highlighted not just the call for the Voice, but Treaty and Truth. Our book is a complementary part of the debate of the Uluru process.
While treaty is often on the national stage and has been a focus for a number of prime ministers, Dr Hobbs says Australia is late to the process compared to other countries – for example, Canada, New Zealand and the United States all have treaties or multiple treaties.
These countries continue to negotiate treaties with the indigenous peoples whose land the states are built on. There’s a lot we can learn from their experiences - we can build on our own processes based on what’s happening elsewhere.
The Federal and State Governments are already showing interest in the book but the authors believe it will have even broader appeal; for those ‘on the ground’ who are negotiating agreements, for Indigenous communities, and for school and university students.
Dr Hobbs says 'Treaty' steps through the key issues that need to be resolved and the outcomes that could be negotiated in reaching a settlement. It is about law and principles but also covers the practicalities:
It addresses the difference treaty can make to people’s lives. There is evidence in the US, for example, that where Indigenous communities are empowered with the ability to make decisions over their own lives, economic outcomes are improved. Treaty is a means to give that empowerment in Australia.
While developments in recent years offer hope, both Dr Hobbs and Professor Williams point out that some things have regrettably remained the same – most significantly Australia’s failure to come to terms with colonisation:
We built a nation on Aboriginal lands, but never negotiated a settlement. And we see persistent economic, social and other outcomes that we think a treaty can help with. It's a key missing piece in that puzzle of how to deal with such extraordinary and long-term disadvantage.