BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:08): I am very pleased to make my contribution on the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022, and in doing so I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which Parliament sits and we stand today in this house of red, the Wurundjeri people, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to acknowledge all of the Indigenous people who have worked so fulsomely with the Parliament and the executive to bring this bill before us today and all Victorians who have contributed collaboratively in this process.

I was present a few weeks ago when my leader, the Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Honourable Peter Walsh, made his contribution in the lower house as our lead speaker on behalf of the Liberals and Nationals. I very much took on board his comments and would like to reflect some of those in this house. The Nationals are committed to advancing the process in Victoria in a way that supports self-determination, reconciliation and strengthening of communities and connection to country. I am the Shadow Assistant Minister for Public Land Use, and I think that is an area that I would like to sit my contribution in shortly as well.

We want to continue to work closely with traditional owners and registered Aboriginal parties to ensure that this process drives genuine progress towards closing the gap, and we know that that is a term that has been around for a long time. It is a vision, but the elements within that still have a long way to go.

It is important that we all remain focused and in fact renew our focus on the Closing the Gap targets. All of the Australian states and territories made that agreement some time ago.

This bill continues the advancement of Victoria’s treaty process by facilitating the establishment of the authority, the body by which the framework is underpinned and the conversations are had. This facilitates its operation through a legal force and a legal entity. It also makes some minor amendments to the Advancing the Treaty Process with Aboriginal Victorians Act 2018 to look at that framework, self-determination and the funds that sit behind that and the establishment of those elements by agreement between both the Aboriginal representative body—the First Nations people—and the state.

This is really part of a phase, and this bill is the next part. The first phase was the establishment of the First Peoples’ Assembly, and I acknowledge that there are members of the First Peoples’ Assembly in the house today. Also in that first phase was the establishment of the Victorian treaty commissioner. This now is the second phase. The bill specifically looks at establishing the authority as an independent body, but it also facilitates the operations by that force and its activities, facilitating the treaty negotiations and the administrative framework. We all need administrative frameworks and for them to be hopefully as smooth sailing as possible to assist parties to, where there is conflict, interest or diversity of views and disputes, resolve those throughout the negotiations and to carry out research and support informed treaty negotiations.

In the past my party, in the previous government, had the Honourable Jeanette Powell from Shepparton. She is small of stature but big of heart, and I know she worked really compassionately and with determination to bring about better change and to work for the Indigenous community. When Jeanette retired we had the Honourable Tim Bull from East Gippsland in my Eastern Victoria electorate. I read Tim’s contribution. He grew up with many from the community there, and I think he was often trounced in football by many of the very elite sportspeople down that way in East Gippsland. It was a great privilege, as he said in his contribution. And, as I have said, now The Nationals leader, Peter Walsh, is our representative and spokesperson.

A few months ago we were in Shepparton and Aunty Geraldine opened our National Party state conference; we have one every May. I had not had the privilege of meeting Aunty Geraldine before, but you could see the importance and the quality of Aunty Geraldine. I think irrespective of where we were born, who we were born from and our lineage, you always respect and understand people of integrity and quality, and it is always good to listen to them and to seek to understand their point of view. That was certainly my impression of Aunty Geraldine. She spoke on the floor in Parliament only a few weeks ago as that representative.

I will mirror some of Dr Bach’s contribution. Probably from my own perspective and from an Eastern Victoria perspective—from the people that I have met and the concerns they have raised with me through my office over time—unfortunately we really still need to wholesomely, with integrity and with intent, focus on where there is incredibly unacceptable disadvantage.

In speaking with some wonderful people in my electorate that look after and provide additional supports to children in out-of-home care, unfortunately Indigenous children are over-represented. They are also still over-represented in child protection and in our youth justice system and they are under-represented in educational attainments. I think that needs to be a focus of every person standing in this Parliament. We want all of our people, all Victorians, to reach the highest outcomes, to reach their potential, but we certainly need to focus on those groups and indeed our Indigenous children who may not be meeting that full potential. It is super important, and I put my willingness to do whatever I can on the record.

In relation to my contribution today, I did write to as many people as I could in my Eastern Victoria Region to ask them for their opinion and to give me some feedback. We make representation, we stand here as one person, but we need to represent a diversity of views. I have somebody I want to mention, and a little later I would like to share with the house his comments about the process.

I want to use an example of public land management as a way that we can walk together, we can learn together and we can learn from very wise traditional owners about the past. Certainly it was a highlight of my career to take up an opportunity back in 2017 to go to Cape York and to Melsonby—or Gaarraay—National Park to meet and renew acquaintances up there with some people I have met down here. It was to do with the importance of learning about firestick. It is something that once you seek to understand it and can feel it from the ground up you become a convert, and I am certainly a convert. Up there, there were a range of nations. Gunnai/Kurnai members were there, Wurundjeri were there. Uncle David Wandin spoke and was invited to speak. There were Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta people, young and old. Mountain cattle men and women were there as well, and South Gippsland ladies with hats and sneakers on were also there and listening.

In some of this it is important to stop, think, listen and feel, and certainly the firestick practice and methodology were really important to this group of people and the diverse clans that were there seeking to understand. Victor Steffensen spent two decades out on country with the wise elders and learned this and shared this. He was standing out there, in bare feet, talking about on country, and it was really an honour to listen. His words were often around ‘Let fire be like water and trickle over the ground’, ‘The tree canopy is sacred’ and ‘Observe and listen to those indicators’—so grasses, the birds, the bees, the possums and the like. It is both simple and highly complex and specialised. I do not even pretend to fully understand. I just have a glimpse of the importance of it, but it can really heal country. I then came back with Uncle David Wandin and spent time out Healesville way and in the Yarra Ranges listening to him on country. I think in some way it is an example of how we can learn and listen and work together.

Also, in 2019 they came to the Barmah State Forest. I went to Nowra in 2018, and in 2019 they came and did burning on country up at the Barmah. Unfortunately Parliament sat that week and even on the Friday. Now I would probably be far more bolshie and I would take off and leave Parliament to go to it, but I was far too compliant back in those days—a little while ago.

Finally, let me just make some comments about Gunnai/Kurnai in my electorate and the very wise and esteemed leader, Grattan Mullett.

I value his calmness, his kindness and his wisdom. I could not get in touch with Grattan this time round, but on their website they talk about how:

Cultural Fire occurs with the right fire, in the right time and in the right way, in the right place.

We use fire to make the land healthy, for ceremony and as a means for communication with each other and the spirits. Our children grow up understanding these cultural practices and teach their children. We help others to understand the benefits of the use of the right fire to manage and protect Country.

Hopefully a little bit through my sharing that with my party, we are certainly very encouraged about continuing that bringing of fire. It is not me bringing it but enabling and facilitating and supporting the traditional owners to bring it onto their country as they see fit. And there are diverse views. Indeed there are others who do not believe in or want firestick, and we appreciate that too. It is not up to me to make those comments other than to say that there are many that certainly do see the benefit of it.

A few weeks ago I had the absolute privilege of sitting down for short time with Uncle Lloyd Hood—and again we talk of quality and that sort of centredness that comes with wise people. I wanted to pick his brains about treaty, and he made some interesting comments. I also learned about his early life in Lake Tyers, the very hard work that he did as a young man and the wise things that he is doing now, going back on country with young people and encouraging them to get back in touch with country. As I said, he is certainly a respected Gunnai/Kurnai elder. I am paraphrasing him, so these are not quotes, but when we spoke he spoke about walking together and working together. He also wants to ensure that all clan groups are involved. He said that treaty is a new thing and we must do it well and it must be unpacked in clear terms so that grassroots traditional owners can engage and understand.

I read a report from Federation Uni the other day. I have got a science degree, and it just seemed a little bit like gobbledegook to me. That was separate to this process entirely, but clear language and good communication brings about really positive steps. I think that is what Uncle Lloyd was saying. He was also saying, ‘Look, what does treaty look like 10 years down the track?’. He wants genuine discussion and return visits with clear language to his people on Gunnai/Kurnai land. I do not really want to be outrageous with this, but he also mentioned the Voice. He said that there will be division on what that means as well and that he does not want anything to be tokenistic—it actually has to be very well grounded. Finally, I thank him for sharing his views, and I will continue to seek to listen and understand his point of view and those of others who wish to engage— (Time expired)