Marcus Stewart, FVTOC CEO

January 13, 2019

 by Charles Pakana, Treaty Engagement Correspondent;

One of Victoria’s most influential organisations behind Treaty is the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations. On the 11th of December, I sat with Federation CEO Marcus Stewart to discuss some of the current issues surrounding Treaty in Victoria.

“We really give it no attention”

The first of those issues was the call from the Victorian Land Justice Group and the Victorian Greens for “38 Nations” to be represented on the Aboriginal Representative Body (ARB). On that issue, Mr. Stewart stated: “We really give it no attention!”

He went on to express interest in seeing work that factually supports that there are/were 38 Nations within Victoria at the time of colonisation, and pointed out: “The only piece of evidence we’ve seen to support that is the current VACL [Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages], which has a clear disclaimer down the bottom [which says] ‘not suitable for Native Title purposes or land claim purposes’.

“I struggle see how this is suitable for a Treaty purpose.”

In coming out in support of the ARB model as currently proposed by the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission, Mr. Stewart said: “The current model certainly doesn’t discriminate against any Traditional Owner group.”

He went on to stress that the ARB’s ultimate responsibility would be to create the Treaty Framework, leaving it entirely up the clans, nations and tribes to decide as to when and where they negotiated their Treaties.

“To actually run arguments that people are being discriminated against, it’s not the case!”

Bipartisan support a bare minimum

Given the political football status of Treaty in the runup to the Victorian State Election on the 24th of November, I asked Mr. Stewart what he wanted to see from the various political parties.

“We still seek bipartisan support as a bare minimum,” he said. “Anything regarding with Treaty will outsee any political cycle. We need them to back this in just as much as we need our mobs to back this in as well.”

Prior to the election, the Federation sent out a media release that called on a $63.4 million commitment from any incoming government “…to support a suite of policies that will support Treaty readiness support packages for Traditional Owners.”

According to Mr. Stewart, there is a critical need for investing in Treaty readiness for Registered Aboriginal Parties and other Traditional Owner group entities. “This is something we haven’t seen to date in grant rounds,: he said. “We want to see more substantially more investment in this.”

The role of non-TOs and non-Indigenous

One of the major questions around Treaty is the role of the non-Traditional Owner Victorian (Victorian Aboriginal People with no bloodline root to a Victorian mob) and non-Indigenous Victorians.

While the Federations recognises Treaty as a sovereign-to-sovereign negotiation, Mr. Stewart emphasised that Treaty is important to reconciliation. “It’s the greatest opportunity for reconciliation we’ve seen in this State,” he said.

“[Just as] we’re seeking bipartisan support from all parties, it’s the same from our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters. Get behind it. It’s a great opportunity.

“You’re not going to lose your backyard. I think that myth was busted back in the Native Title days.”