Blog | 1st Aug, 2023

First Nations justice FAQ

With big moments coming up around a First Nations Voice to Parliament, Truth-telling and Treaty, this year is going to be really important for First Nations justice. It’s a chance for us all to back in campaigns First Nations have been leading for centuries – and keep building the momentum we need for lasting, transformative change.

We’ve put together this FAQ to give more information on what Voice and Treaty mean, why it’s so important for climate and environment organisations like Environment Victoria to be speaking up, and how you can get involved.

  1. Why should climate and environment organisations stand up for First Nations justice?
  2. Why is Environment Victoria supporting the Voice?
  3. What is Treaty and a Voice to Parliament, and how does it work in Victoria?
  4. What is a referendum and how will it work?
  5. How can I get involved?

1. Why should climate and environment organisations stand up for First Nations justice? 

We know when First Nations have a say over what happens on their Country we all benefit.   

Traditional custodians lived sustainably on this continent for millennia, caring for its land, waters, plants and animals. And today, there are so many positive examples where First Nations peoples are back in charge of land and sea management. 

New research shows that cultural burning is more effective than current fire management. Here in western Victoria, Gunditjmara people and local fire authorities worked together during the 2019-2020 bushfires to protect the heritage-listed Budj Bim National Park – and to safeguard both Gunditjmara and non-Indigenous values. 

But there’s more to it. To create a just society living in harmony with nature, we need to do more than just protect one place or species at a time.  We need to address environmental destruction at its root cause – changing how power is distributed across our society so the communities most impacted by environmental damage and inequality have the most powerful voices in creating solutions.   

Self-determination means First Nations communities in control of their own destiny – whether that’s delivering quality health and education services, caring for Country or getting a share of the jobs and investment in the green economy. 

Partnership helped stop Budj Bim National Park fire and protect Gunditjmara heritage

Canberra Times

Fires that started in the Budj Bim National Park in December posed an extra challenge for firefighters who needed to contain the blaze while protecting important indigenous heritage.

2. Why is Environment Victoria supporting the Voice?

We have been consulting with First Nations allies and friends. While there is a diversity of opinions and positions, we have been asked to stand in solidarity and get involved in the Yes campaign.  

The idea for a Voice came out of the Uluru State from the Heart, a call by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for real and practical change in Australia through a Voice to Parliament and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission, to undertake processes of treaty-making and truth-telling.

We believe that the campaign for the Voice and the referendum can be a powerful moment to build momentum for true justice and self-determination. 

You can read more from our CEO Jono La Nauze in this blog >>


3. What is treaty and a voice to Parliament, and how does it work in Victoria?

A treaty is a binding agreement between two or more states or sovereign powers, usually reached after a period of negotiation. Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty with the land’s First Nations peoples. 

This factsheet from ANTAR and this video from NITV explain what a Treaty is in more detail. 

The idea for a Voice to Parliament came out of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The statement calls for a Voice for First Nations people to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution, to create a permanent Indigenous advisory body to federal parliament allowing First Nations people to have their say. It also calls for Makarrata to enable treaties. Read more from Reconciliation Victoria here >>  

The government hasn’t yet responded to the call for Makarrata and treaty. So the First Nations Voice to Parliament is a step on the journey, but there will still be lots to do. 

While the federal government is pursuing a Voice, big steps are also being made towards Treaty in Victoria.  

Campaigns to win back civil and land rights in Victoria 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 Victorian 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. 

Historic deal struck to begin Victorian treaty negotiations with First Nations groups

The Guardian

Victoria will become the first Australian jurisdiction to begin negotiating treaties with First Nations groups next year, after a historic deal was brokered to allow traditional owners to enter into interim agreements during negotiations.

4. What is a referendum and how will it work?

This great video from NITV explains all the details!

5. How can I get involved?

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.

We’re going to be bringing people together to talk about Voice. We’ll be getting active in our communities, making support for YES visible in our streets and towns and having powerful conversations about why a YES vote is so important.

Sign up below to get involved, or click here to find more resources like message guides and yard signs to help you show your support!