Opposition MPs speak out against Victoria’s treaty plan

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams invited all state MPs to a briefing on the bill on Thursday but only two of the Coalition’s 37 members – Walsh and equality spokesman James Newbury – attended the entire briefing.

williams told The Age the legislation was “beyond politics” and encouraged the opposition to support the bill.

Liberal backbencher Tim Smith said he does not support the treaty process.

Liberal backbencher Tim Smith said he does not support the treaty process. Credit:Paul Jeffers

The division in the opposition comes just weeks after the Liberal Party lost three heartland seats at the federal election, prompting accusations it has abandoned more moderate voters who often support progressive social policies.

Former shadow attorney-general Tim Smith, who remains a member of the opposition but will quit politics in November following a drink-driving incident, said he did not support Victoria entering treaty negotiations on principle.

“You enter treaties with foreign governments not your own people,” Smith said. “It’s a fundamental principle that I will not walk away from.”

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The Age spoke to a third opposition MP, on the condition of anonymity, who said they also held “deep concerns” about the authority, which will be made up of First Nations people and which will sit outside government and not report to a minister.

“As a principle, I am in favor of treating disadvantage but this doesn’t do it,” the backbench MP said.

Another backbencher, who didn’t wish to be named, said they supported the idea of ​​a treaty but couldn’t support a government-appointed body that “sat outside government and didn’t report to a minister”.

By contrast, Coalition MPs who backed the bill agreed that support for the treaty process showed respect to Indigenous Victorians and was part of a broader process of dealing with intergenerational trauma.

The bill has strong support from some more moderate frontbenchers, several of whom plan to speak in support of the bill during Monday’s shadow cabinet meeting.

Victoria is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia that is moving on both the treaty and truth-telling components of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart. Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania have also committed to deliver treaties with First Nations peoples in those jurisdictions.

First Peoples’ Assembly co-chair Geraldine Atkinson, a Bangerang and Wiradjuri elder, said the treaty process was a chance “to create new institutions that draw on and celebrate the strength and wisdom of the oldest living culture in the world”.

“Our community has thought long and hard about how we create a treaty umpire that we can have faith in,” Atkinson said.

“My message to all politicians is don’t stand in our way, don’t hold up the efforts shared to right the wrongs of the past, instead walk with us on this journey.”

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Fearing a collision course with dissatisfied MPs, the opposition refused to publicly confirm whether it would back the bill when asked by The Age on Friday. Shadow Treasurer David Davis said the opposition would “examine the legislation next week”.

He said the shadow cabinet would examine whether there was a need for a treaty authority or whether it was “better delivered through some other mechanism that doesn’t create a whole new bureaucracy”.

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