Polls have closed and 21 Aboriginal members have been elected to Victoria’s ‘First People’s Assembly’. The assembly will meet on December 10 and 11 with the sovereign power to negotiate, on behalf of all those of Aboriginal race or descent in Victoria, a treaty ‘on equal terms’ with the state government. Despite a low proportion of the eligible Indigenous population enrolling to vote — a tiny percentage of the state population overall — and only around 70 standing for election, this treaty will form the legal basis for the process of ‘self-determination’ for the Aboriginal people in Victoria. Through the ‘Self-determination Fund’, the assembly will also be granted, by the government, an ‘independent financial resource’ (amount not specified) to ‘have equal standing with the state in treaty negotiations.’
Announcing the news, the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission jeered that ‘Self-determination has arrived at the centre of a colonial power structure‘. Otherwise know as the Victorian Parliament’s Upper House, on December 10 this ‘colonial power structure’ will be “dressed to reflect Aboriginal cultures throughout Victoria” and will be ‘modified’ with all the pomp and circumstance of the new Aboriginal imperium, as the new assembly members, who had to be Aboriginal to stand, will begin their proceedings in the state’s highest chamber.
Treaty Advancement Commissioner, Jill Gallagher, celebrated the elections to the new assembly, by saying that “for decades, parliament has been the origin of laws that aimed to oppress our people.” Stating that “Parliament House is the centre of power in this state”, she said that it is, therefore “fitting that our assembly shares the same stage.”
Opening a treaty negotiation by immediately insulting your opponent’s democracy as nothing more than a ‘colonial power structure’ aimed at ‘oppress[ing] our people’, rings in a tone more suited to the triumphalist rhetoric of war-reparations imposed on a defeated enemy than one in which the treating party was invented, quite literally, just days ago.
Yet this is not a defeat for the state government of Victoria, but a confected negotiation in which they are already entirely aligned with the goals of the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission and the First People’s Assembly. Daniel Andrew’s Government has long committed itself to full Aboriginal self-determination and to ‘creating a new relationship between government and the Aboriginal community’ through granting them a separate, or ‘freely determined’ ‘political status’.
The government is, in effect, introducing a system of privilege (in the full meaning of the word, which is ‘private law’), whereby the framework for a parallel governmental and legal system based on race is being erected. To this effect, the Government has provided a reporting mechanism ‘for government departments to report annually… outlining [their] progress towards transforming government systems and structures to enable self-determination.’
While the government implements its new ‘Self-determination reform framework’ and the first phase of its ‘treaty process’, the wording of the ‘treaty or treaties’ will be left to the First People’s Assembly to decide.
The first meeting of this Assembly will be live-streamed from the Victorian Parliament. And all those who care about equality before the law or the principle of ‘one man, one vote’ should monitor its proclamations with care. Watch this space.
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