Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan has blasted the opposition for performing a “U-turn” on an Indigenous Treaty for Victoria as John Pesutto faced a barrage of questions about when the Coalition agreed its position.
Victoria’s Premier is accusing the Opposition of “crab walking” away from treaty.
Indigenous leaders say they aren’t concerned by the change in position – which has been prompted by cultural heritage concerns.
Opposition Aboriginal Affairs Spokesperson Peter Walsh revealed his party would not support treaty, with the state government responding with dismay.
Former Liberal MP Tim Smith has welcomed the Opposition’s change in stance after being the only lower house MP to cross the floor to oppose the treaty.
First People’s Assembly of Victoria’s Rueben Berg expressed his disappointment in the change of stance by the Opposition.
Mr Pesutto refused to go into “internal (shadow) cabinet deliberations” when pressed about when the opposition made the decision a Treaty would not be the best way forward to improve outcomes for Indigenous Victorians.
The Coalition’s latest position was made public on the weekend but Ms Allan on Monday seized on claims the opposition actually agreed to take an alternative position on a Treaty late last year.
Mr Pesutto said there were “ongoing” discussions on the matter, adding he did not want people “to think there’s just one meeting at which these things are discussed and then resolved upon”.
“I’m not going to go into internal (shadow) cabinet deliberations. I think the broader issue is the alternatives that the Victorian people will now face,” he said.
“One that I’m championing, which is let’s focus on real life outcomes, making sure that each and every Indigenous Victorian can get the education they need, can get the support they need, the life opportunities they deserve.
“As opposed to one that will focus on the Treaty, which is Jacinta Allan’s path. And I respect her view to go a different path. But I just don’t think it’s going to work.”
Mr Pesutto later conceded that one of the “decision points along the way” occurred in November.
During the last parliament, the Coalition supported legislation to establish a Treaty Authority to lead negotiations between Aboriginal Victorians and the state.
But Mr Pesutto said the opposition “very explicitly reserved its position on the outcomes”, and now had concerns about the “secrecy” surrounding the process, cultural heritage laws and the traditional owner settlement act.
“I think all Victorians understand that a lot has happened since the last parliament,” he said.
“In particular around cultural heritage and around traditional owner settlement act outcomes. In addition to which, we’ve had a really challenging debate in the last 12 months at a national level.”
Ms Allan slammed the opposition for performing a “U-turn” on Treaty after giving its backing to the previous legislation to set up the Authority.
“Victoria’s pathway to Treaty with our Indigenous community has had, up until this point, important bi-partisan support,” she said.
“And what we’ve seen today, the announcement from the Liberal Party under John Pesutto’s leadership is a complete u-turn that’s not been discussed, as I understand, with the government.
“And it’s certainly not been discussed with the indigenous community who are now left to pick up the pieces from this decision.
“We’re told today that the decision was made by John Pesutto and the shadow cabinet as far back as October. Yet we’re only hearing about it now in the last week of January.
“So how on earth can Victorians trust John Pesutto and the Liberal Party on any issue if they conceal their decisions from the Victorian community.”
The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria said the Coalition’s decision was “disappointing, but not surprising”, adding the announcement will mean “not much really”.
“Of course, we would have liked to have kept Treaty above party politics and our door will remain open to politicians of all persuasions, but there is a clear path to Treaty ahead of us,” a statement said.
“It’s time to negotiate a Treaty that will provide Aboriginal communities with the power to implement practical solutions at a local level.”