Laying the Foundations for Treaty

Marcia Langton, Jamie Lowe and Amanda Porter


Thursday, 12 November, saw the relaunching of the Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements website, as part of NAIDOC Week 2020. The expert panel of Professor Marcia Langton (Yiman, Bidjara, Associate Provost, University of Melbourne), Mr Jamie Lowe (Gundjitmara Djabwurrung, CEO of the National Native Title Council, elected representative of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria), and Dr Amanda Porter (Yuin, Senior Fellow, Melbourne Law School), moderated by Professor Pip Nicholson (Dean, Melbourne Law School), considered a variety of topics, including the impact and potential of the ATNS, and Treaty processes at both the State and Federal level.

The event commenced with a powerful Welcome to Country, by Uncle Dave Wandin (Wurundjeri). Speaking on the role of Country as the Spiritual Mother, Uncle Dave spoke of his own evolving skills in reading Country, and the importance for all people to positively act to heal Country, which in turn acts to heal the spirits of both the Mother, and Children (Aboriginal and Settler communities). Uncle Dave’s Welcome was followed by formal welcomes from both The Hon. Ken Wyatt AM, MP (Yamatji, Wongi, Noongar, Minister for Indigenous Australians (Cth)), and Professor Duncan Maskell (Vice Chancellor, University of Melbourne).

The discussion began with a conversation concerning the role and future of the ATNS. Mr Lowe considered the ways in which the ATNS can provide power to Aboriginal communities as an accurate reflection of history, with the knowledge contained within the ATNS empowering Community to engage in rights conversations, and ultimately self-determination. Professor Langton reflected on the history of the ATNS project, one which has run for more than 10 years. After thanking many of the people who have made the ATNS possible, Professor Langton described the process of designing the project, ensuring that it had an interdisciplinary focus, and overcoming practical concerns, such as search functionality. Doctor Porter related her own professional experiences and use of the ATNS, and its importance as the only resource that captures and records the primary material relating to agreements between Aboriginal communities and Settler governments.

Having discussed the ATNS itself, the panel then considered broader questions facing the Aboriginal community, in particular focusing on Treaty negotiations at both the State and Federal levels. Professor Langton noted that Treaty has been a decades-long movement in Australia, with the current process underway in Victoria a breakthrough for and by the Aboriginal community. Mr Lowe noted that Victoria had acted as a partial domino, with the Northern Territory and Queensland also now engaging in Treaty processes. Mr Lowe also noted the importance and increase in quasi-Treaty and settlement agreements, such as the Noongar Settlement Agreement, in Western Australia. Doctor Porter critiqued the lack of trust between Aboriginal communities and Settler-structures, particularly in relation to the policing of Aboriginal communities. This problem, which increases the difficulties faced by Treaty processes, can only be rectified by non-Aboriginal Australians reflecting on and seeking to understand the full history of violence perpetrated by Australian governments against Aboriginal people, and the involvement of police in many of these actions.

Finally, the panel turned its collective minds to the next significant developments that may take Treaty further in Australia. Professor Langton stated that the next technical step was to put pen to paper and begin drafting a Treaty in Victoria. Mr Lowe agreed, and added that there were also critical aspects of Treaty from around the world that we should consider and either adopt or amend for our own Aboriginal/Settler Treaty processes. Finally, Doctor Porter ask for non-Aboriginal people to reflect on Aboriginal claims for sovereignty, as a pathway for improved public governance of all Australians.


  • Pip Nicholson (Professor, Dean Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne)


  • Marcia Langton (Yiman, Bidjara, Professor, Associate Provost, University of Melbourne);
  • Jamie Lowe (Gundjitmara Djabwurrung, CEO of the National Native Title Council, elected representative of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria); and
  • Amanda Porter (Yuin, Senior Fellow, Melbourne Law School)