While an enormous number of organisations have shut their doors for the duration of COVID-19 lockdowns, the work towards achieving Treaty in Victoria between the First Nations and state government continues unabated.

Marcus Stewart, co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, said of the organisation’s workload and progress: “it hasn’t slowed down that’s for sure. We’ve pivoted really quickly to develop a program digitally… We’re going as fast and strong as ever.”

By adopting videoconferencing technology, the Assembly has maintained work in all key areas, such as board meetings, internal staff meetings and even meetings between the Assembly co-Chairs and the recently appointed Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gabrielle Williams MP.

“The only challenge I find with Zoom [videoconferencing] is whose turn is it to talk,” Mr Stewart quipped. “It becomes a bit of a free-for-all sometimes.

“It was a good conversation. It was good to get a sense of the ministers’s priorities and learning from her that treaty is a key priority for her… So we continue with as much momentum as we had pre-COVID.”

Not Negotiating Treaty or Treaties

In commenting clearly on the Assembly’s role, Mr Stewart said: “It’s there to create a negotiation framework… a self-determination fund and also to establish a Treaty Authority, which will be an independent umpire, which will oversee disputes.”

Even though the Assembly is barely four months old, it has been looked to as a voice for a huge number of issues, such as the recent devastating Victorian bushfires, Aboriginal identity, deaths in custody and Stolen Generations reparation.

“One the key things that always comes up for us is that we can’t be everything to everybody,” Mr Stewart said. “Right now people are looking at us to resolve disputes outside of what our mandate is.

“Our role is clear, and that is to create a treaty negotiation framework, a treaty authority, a self-determination fund along with an Elders’ Voice.”

[Listen above for the full interview]

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