Packed forum discusses Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Treaty

March 17, 2016
Stop the Intervention-hosted the Men Speak Out For Treaty meeting.

It was standing room only at the Men Speak Out For Treaty forum held in the Redfern Community Centre on March 14 organised by the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney. The meeting was facilitated by journalist and filmmaker Jeff McMullen.

Wiri Man Tony McAvoy argued that a treaty would settle past injustices and build a better future. A treaty would have to include an acknowledgement that Australia was conquered not settled, and recognition of Aboriginal rights to self-determination.

It would have to involve land rights for Aboriginal people and reparations for land and resources stolen. It would also have to involve guaranteed representation in an Australian republic, environmental protection and changes to land tenure agreements.

Nurungga elder and Aboriginal advocate Tauto Sansbury said: “We've been fighting against the [Jay] Weatherill ALP government's attempt to turn South Australia into a nuclear waste dump for the world. We thought the ALP government would be better but they are ripping up Aboriginal heritage rights and giving an open door to mining companies.

“Aboriginal people are recognised in South Australia in our state constitution, but it is just a feel-good statement from Weatherill, like [former PM Kevin] Rudd's 'sorry'.

“Black land is being taken over by mines and farms, and a treaty increases our bargaining power. But we have to stick together and know what to fight for.”

Awabakal man and NTEU A&TSI Policy Committee chair Terry Mason said: “The treaty preference is rarely mentioned in government consultation meetings, but there is much more support for a treaty than Recognise in communities.

“I attended the Victorian consultation on treaty, and the government was surprised by the attendance. With minimal building from the government there were 350–500 people, with 39 clans represented from across the south-east. It was youth and elders, not just the radicals.

“The questions they wanted us to answer were around self-determination. There were no questions on treaty. Now, it's been 20 years since the Victorian government last consulted the community about self-determination, so why should we trust them now?

“They also asked: 'Is there a will in the room to discuss recognition?' No-one put up their hand. A vote was taken and the people of the south-east unanimously voted against constitutional recognition.

“Now, 228 years on, the gap is widening on every front. But this country went too far on the WA community closures, and black youth are rising up, joined by their white allies. They shut down Melbourne CBD, Sydney and Brisbane.”

Yolngu Nations Assembly spokesperson Yingiya Mark Guyula said: “Blacks are sovereign, not conquered, and subject to black law. We have declared a free Arnhem state within Australia, free from colonialism.”

He showed footage of the ceremony and said: “This is Black law in action via ceremony, whereas white law is simply paper. With the Intervention, Black law has been pushed aside, and now we have an increase in suicide, self harm, domestic violence and malnutrition.”

Gurang Gurang man and Stronger Smarter Institute chairperson Dr Chris Sarra said the humanity of the Black population has not been acknowledged and this has led to political abuses. He argued both treaty and recognition are viable.

In discussion, lead NSW Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance Ken Canning said: “We cannot possibly sit down and make a treaty with this government until they admit the atrocities of the past and come clean with the true history of this country and what was done to our people. The whole history has to be taught to all people in this country.

“This country also has to know that these atrocities are still going on today. Politicians are still living in denial of the past and of the present, and they do not acknowledge any of the injustices we have had forced upon us.

“Every single aspect of any form of alleged justice they have forced upon us has been to keep us divided. Does anybody think this government will start being honest now. They have stolen everything from us and kept us down. Does anybody really think they are going to give us anything more than lip service?”

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