Blog | 1st May, 2023

Voice, Treaty, Truth and Self Determination

As the people who make up Environment Victoria, we come together because we want to build a just society living in harmony with nature – a world where rivers flow and forests stand tall; where everyone plays their part in caring for our planet and shares in the abundance of life on Earth.   

The power to bring this world about is in our hands. But only if we change the way power is distributed across our whole society, so the communities most impacted by environmental damage and inequality have the most powerful voice in creating solutions.   

Australia’s worst environmental problems today are inextricably linked to the disruption of a sustainable land management system developed over 60,000 years. Restoring those practices and putting First Nations people back in charge of land and sea management is proving hugely successful in protecting landscapes from Arnhem Land to Gippsland.   

Restoring the rightful place of First Nations in caring for country is part of the bigger picture of confronting our history and taking meaningful steps to address it. The goal of First Nations self-determination is about much more than protecting the environment. It’s about First Nations communities being in control of their own destiny. Whether it’s delivering quality health and education services, or getting a share of the jobs and investment in the green economy, paternalistic solutions don’t work. Community control is vital to success.   

In the end, we all benefit from First Nations self-determination because a just society is a society that is best equipped to tackle the enormous social and environmental challenges we face. Every wind turbine and transmission line we need to build will be on First Nations country. Every ecosystem we need to repair is a First Nations birthright. A country that celebrates and empowers the oldest living culture in the World is a country that is willing and able to drive a fast, fair transition to zero emissions.  

This year, with big moments on Voice, Truth and Treaty, the stage is set for every one of us to play a part in delivering First Nations self-determination and stepping closer to that just society we all long for.  

Self-determination is never won – or lost – in one hit. Campaigns to win back civil rights and land rights have spanned generations. In recent decades, nations like the GunaiKurnai in Gippsland and the Yorta Yorta in the Goulburn-Murray have negotiated historic agreements with the Victorian government that have recognised important rights over country and delivered jobs and better outcomes for nature. But their struggles are not yet finished. There is so much more to be done.   

Victoria’s Truth and Treaty processes are one opportunity to progress this unfinished business. The government intends to negotiate one overarching Statewide Treaty as well as local Treaties with individual First Nations. According to the Victorian government, these Treaties could cover matters as diverse as political representation, land and water, and economic development. Each First Nation will choose if and how they want to engage in this process. Negotiations for the statewide treaty will commence in the second half of 2023 after the election of representatives to the First People’s Assembly of Victoria.   

At the same time, the campaign to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart is hotting up, including the push for a First Nations Voice to federal parliament.  Environment Victoria is in ongoing dialogue with First Nations allies and supporters about what this moment means for them. So far, we’ve heard a few clear themes.  

Firstly, a yes vote will be interpreted by Australia’s political leaders as a vote of confidence in First Nations to take charge of their own destiny. But a no vote will be interpreted as the opposite. Secondly, the Voice cannot possibly deliver full self-determination – it can only be a step on a journey. So it’s critical we show that Australia is hungry for deeper change. A yes vote that slows momentum, that dilutes the appetite for treaty and justice, would be a disaster. 

This says to me that the best outcome is a yes vote accompanied by the demand for even greater change.  

So the Voice has a mandate to drive Makarrata, the treaty and truth-telling process proposed in the Uluru Statement. So the Albanese government feels compelled to implement the full recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. And most importantly, so that every campaign for justice being led by First Nations around the country is lifted up on a tide of public support. 

Over the coming weeks and months there will be many opportunities to help build power and momentum for First Nations justice. As allies, we see our role as creating the space for respectful dialogue, backing First Nations voices, and building support for the fundamental principle of self-determination. 

How to get involved

Voice to Parliament

At this year’s referendum, we have the chance to take a collective step forward for First Nations justice.

The next few months are going to be key to getting everyone on board to push forward this momentum – and we need as many voices speaking up as possible. Environment Victoria is going to be getting active in our communities, making support for YES visible in our streets and towns and having conversations with people who are unsure about their vote. We’d would love for you to get involved.

Click here to sign up, and to find more resources to help you show your support, like yard signs and conversation guides >>

Victorian Treaty and truth-telling

If you are First Nations you can vote for the First Peoples Assembly that will negotiate Victoria’s statewide treaty. Visit or call 1800 TREATY. Voting takes place from 13 May to 3 June. If you are a First Nations person we’d love to hear from you at or 93418100. 

All of us can be part of the journey to address Victoria’s colonial history by following the Yoorrook truth-telling process that is connected to the Treaty negotiations. The Yoorook website contains powerful testimony from inspirational Elders and First Nations people and will deliver a final report by mid 2024.