Former Australian of the Year Professor Mick Dodson has been appointed as the Northern Territory’s first Treaty Commissioner.

The Territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced the news on February 18th, saying Professor Dodson’s participation in the Treaty process will be invaluable to the Northern Territory Government.

“Along with Local Decision-Making Agreements – nine of which have now been signed across the Territory – Treaty is an important part of the journey towards empowerment for Aboriginal people,” Mr Gunner said.

“I welcome Professor Dodson to this critical appointment and look forward to working with him on the delivery of Treaty.”

Professor Dodson is a life-long advocate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and interests and has held many roles in the past to serve and support Indigenous Australians.

He was Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner from 1993-1998, is a past CEO of the Northern Land Council, and served as Counsel in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in the NT and WA.

“I want to congratulate the NT Government for initiating this very important Treaty process,” Professor Dodson said.

“We as a nation must come face to face with our dark and traumatic history. We must confront the impact of colonisation and begin the process of acknowledgement, recognition and healing. The NT has embarked on dealing with this task by this courageous step of setting up this Commission.”

As Treaty Commissioner, Professor Dodson will consult with Indigenous Australians, representative bodies and community groups to determine their support for a Treaty, among other work.

He will prepare an interim report and public discussion paper on the best ways to move forward with a Northern Territory treaty or treaties.

Professor Dodson will begin his new role on Monday March 4th.


Warm welcomes
Northern Land Council’s interim acting CEO Dr John Ah Kit says the Council welcomes the appointment of Professor Dodson.

“Professor Dodson is the most qualified person for this position because of his outstanding contribution to the community to date,” Dr Ah Kit said.

“He knows the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and knows what Aboriginal people want.

“This is an important opportunity to reset the relationship between the Territory’s First Nations and the Government.”

In a similar move, the Central Land Council has also expressed their satisfaction with the NT Government’s choice for Treaty Commissioner.

“The Barunga Agreement our four land councils negotiated with the government will be [Professor Dodson’s] roadmap for the consultations,” Central Land Council’s Chair, Francis Kelly said.

The Barunga Agreement was signed in June 2018 by the Territory’s four land councils and the Northern Territory Government, outlining the principles for developing a treaty.

One important condition negotiated for by the land councils was that the Treaty Commissioner be independent and sufficiently resourced to conduct a wide range of consultations.

“Now it’s time for all Aboriginal people to run with the ball and have their say about treaty,” Mr Kelly said.

Central Land Council’s CEO Joe Martin-Jard also has confidence Professor Dodson will excel in his new role.

“I have no doubt that Mick’s report to the NT government will reflect the informed views of the Territory’s Aboriginal peoples on this complex issue,” Mr Martin-Jard said.


Victoria joins Treaty ranks

As treaty talks heat up across the country, the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission has made the move to rename their representative body to the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

This independent organisation will support Indigenous communities in negotiating treaties and will begin its work later in the year.

Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher said the organisation’s original name, the Aboriginal Representative Body, was only temporary.

“The Assembly will be powerful, independent and culturally strong. It will bring our people together for a common cause. We feel the [new] name reflects this,” Ms Gallagher said.

The Treaty Working Group Co-Chair Eleanor Bourke has also said the Assembly will be self-determining and support the Indigenous community before and during treaty negotiations.

“2019 will be a year where Aboriginal Victorians will take a big step forward,” Ms Bourke said.

By Hannah Cross