Deadly Event Series: Treaty & Truth

Marcus Stewart, Josh Smith and Kirsty Gover


On Thursday, 12 November, Professor Kirsty Gover participated in a discussion on Treaty and Truth, one of a number of events hosted by the Victorian Public Service in recognition of NAIDOC Week, 2020. Professor Gover featured on a panel that included Marcus Stewart, a Taungurung man and inaugural Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, and Josh Smith, a Dunghutti man, and Executive Director of Aboriginal Victoria, within the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The discussion was moderated by Elly Patira, who has links to Gunai and Ngapuhi country, and is the Acting Director of the Aboriginal Affairs Policy branch within the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the panellists considered a variety of practical, legal and political questions relating to the interaction between Treaty and truth-telling, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement on Aboriginal-Settler relationships within Australia, the capacity for the Treaty process currently underway in Victoria to both hear and respond to the diversity of views contained within the Aboriginal community, and the capacity of the Treaty process to deal with broader issues such as Aboriginal over-policing and over-incarceration, historical violence done to Aboriginal communities within Victoria, and Aboriginal self-determination.

Mr Stewart brought audience members into the discussions had by the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria as to how best to represent the diverse and differing aspirations of Victoria’s Aboriginal community, discussed the importance of Treaty as a means of correcting the historical record by providing truth to the story of Aboriginal-Settler interactions in Victoria, and outlined the current and future work of the Assembly, including mechanisms by which to resolve disputes and a Treaty negotiation framework. Mr Smith discussed the power of Treaty and truth-telling to address personal and community-wide trauma as a form of healing, and the importance of those processes being led by the Aboriginal community. Mr Smith also reflected on the legacy of government processes and engagement with the Aboriginal community that has been predicated on power imbalances between the parties, and the importance of Aboriginal leadership within political and law reform. Professor Gover provided legal and historical context to the Treaty process itself, reflecting on the capacity for the Victorian process to both adopt and learn from First Nations Peoples-Settler processes (including Treaty processes) in New Zealand and Canada. Professor Gover reflected on the unique manner of political control of Aboriginal communities in Australia leading into the 1967 Referendum, and the strengths and potential vulnerabilities of State-based Treaty processes. Whilst hopeful about the possibility of Treaty as one of a number of mechanisms that can right the balance of Aboriginal-Settler relations in Victoria, there was general agreement that much work must still be done to ensure that Victoria’s Aboriginal community is able to engage with and ultimately determine how it moves forward in its relationship with the Settler State.


  • Elly Patira (Gunai and Ngapuhi, Acting Director of Aboriginal Affairs Policy Branch –  Department of Premier and Cabinet, founding director of Australian Lawyers for Remote Aboriginal Rights)


  • Marcus Stewart (Taungurung, inaugural Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, CEO of the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations);
  • Josh Smith (Dunghutti, Executive Director of Aboriginal Victoria – Department of Premier and Cabinet); and
  • Kirsty Gover (Professor, Associate Dean (Indigenous Recognition) – Melbourne Law School, ARC Future Fellow).