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Treaty - Recognised Rights and Responsibilities

Matty Bonson our NT Correspondent returns to 3KND Big Brekkie this morning to yarn about Treaty within Australia and those overseas.

Indigenous treaties in Australia are proposed binding legal agreements between Australian governments and Australian First Nations (or other similar groups).

A treaty could (amongst other things) recognise First Nations as distinct political communities, acknowledge Indigenous Sovereignty, set out mutually recognised rights and responsibilities or provide for some degree of self-government. As of 2022, no such treaties are in force, however the Commonwealth and all States except Western Australia have committed to a treaty process. The rejection of the Voice in the 2023 referendum has caused governments in Australia to reassess their commitment to establishing race-based institutions in government.

Moves to State and Territory treaties were boosted by the Victorian Government's establishment of a legal framework for negotiations to progress, announced in 2016 and with the election of the First Peoples' Assembly in 2019. Support shown for Indigenous issues by the June 2020 Black Lives Matter rallies across Australia also increased the momentum for a treaty process.

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document. It takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. This day is now a public holiday in New Zealand. The Treaty is an agreement, in Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs).

The Treaty in Māori was deemed to convey the meaning of the English version, but there are important differences. Most significantly, the word ‘sovereignty’ was translated as ‘kawanatanga’ (governance). Some Māori believed they were giving up government over their lands but retaining the right to manage their own affairs.

The English version guaranteed ‘undisturbed possession’ of all their ‘properties’, but the Māori version guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (full authority) over ‘taonga’ (treasures, which may be intangible).

Māori understanding was at odds with the understanding of those negotiating the Treaty for the Crown, and as Māori society valued the spoken word, explanations given at the time were probably as important as the wording of the document.


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