The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria has tabled their first Annual Report in Victorian Parliament, wrapping up a successful and progressive year.

The report outlines the achievements of the Assembly and the 31 democratically elected members since its formation late last year.

“This is more than just a report. This represents the new relationship between Aboriginal people and the Parliament of Victoria, engaging on equal terms as two democratically-elected bodies,” said Assembly Co-Chair Geraldine Atkinson.

“Earlier this year we saw thousands of Victorians marching in the street as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. They were marching about the ongoing injustices that Treaty can and will address [in] the State.”

The Assembly is ensuring Victoria leads the nation in developing a Treaty process between State and First Peoples. The Assembly have already succeeded in calling on the State to commit to delivering a Stolen Generations Redress Scheme and a truth-telling process.

The success of the Assembly in its first year can be attributed to the consultation and decision-making of the Victorian Aboriginal community, who engaged with the elected representatives.

“Victoria is the birthplace of many aspects of Aboriginal activism in Australia so it makes sense that we are leading the way when it comes to progressing a Treaty process with the state,” said Assembly Co-Chair Marcus Stewart.

“Change is possible, and it is coming. We will get there by leaning on the strength, courage and resilience of our ancestors with our community guiding us every step of the way.”

Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams commended the Assembly for their commitment and hard work.

“Victoria’s progress towards Treaty is only possible because of the strength, advocacy and unwavering dedication of generations of Aboriginal Victorians,” she said.

“We shouldn’t discount the historic nature of our first meeting to officially commence Treaty negotiations when it took place in August this year. I look forward to continuing this work in partnership with a commitment to a relationship of equals.”

With Victoria experiencing the worst of COVID-19, the Assembly has adapted to an online environment in order to continue their success. As it stands, the interactive livestreamed member-led discussion with community has an engagement reach of over 43,000 people. Livestreams which see the Assembly gathering for online Chamber meetings have engaged almost 90,000 people.

The Minister also acknowledged the Assembly’s adaptability through the pandemic.

“I am also grateful for the Assembly’s commitment to progress Treaty in Victoria despite the significant challenges posed by coronavirus … and commend the Assembly for its ability to show great innovation and flexibility by moving to online platforms and in doing so engage inclusively with all Traditional Owners.”

In the year to come, the Assembly has plans to reach an agreement with the State for an interim dispute resolution process, the form, function and powers of the Treaty Authority, and initial elements of the Treaty negotiation framework.

Work on the self-determination fund is set to continue and a report to the Aboriginal Community will be released in early 2021.

By Rachael Knowles