Victorian Coalition withdraws support for Aboriginal treaty, citing delays to development

The Victorian opposition has withdrawn its support for a state-based treaty with Indigenous Victorians.

The Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister and Victorian Nationals leader, Peter Walsh, said the Coalition made the decision because of mounting concerns over delays being caused by cultural heritage processes.

He said property developers had raised concerns with him that the current cultural heritage system was resulting in higher construction costs for Victorian homes.

“The traditional owner groups have a monopoly under government legislation,” Mr Walsh told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“There’s no compulsion on timelines, there’s no real set fee structure, there’s no appeal process.”

The Victorian opposition says it won’t support a treaty until the processes around cultural heritage approvals are reviewed.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Mr Walsh said the shadow cabinet had agreed it would not support a treaty until there had been changes to the Traditional Owner Settlement Act and Cultural Heritage Act.

He said he believed damage was being done to the Victorian economy.

“I’ve got example after example where people have been held up for not very good reasons at all,” he said.

“We want to see cultural heritage protected where there is cultural heritage. We don’t want to see people paying exorbitant fees where there is no cultural heritage.”

Treaty negotiators say cultural heritage concerns could be addressed in treaty

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria — a representative Aboriginal body which will engage in treaty talks with the government this year — said it was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the Coalition’s change in policy.

Co-chair Rueben Berg agreed current cultural heritage laws “were not a perfect system” and said many of the delays and costs flowed from a lack of people with the qualifications to give cultural heritage advice.

First Peoples’ Assembly Co-Chair Rueben Berg says the Opposition’s withdrawal of support will not affect Treaty negotiations.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

“I think it [Victoria’s cultural heritage laws] is a strong model of a system where we’ve empowered traditional owners to be able to be decision makers in cultural heritage but, sadly, they haven’t been actually resourced to undertake this important role they’re supposed to do,” Mr Berg told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“There are things that probably do need to be tweaked and adjusted, not just some of the concerns raised by the Nationals but there’s many concerns from a traditional owner standpoint as well.”

“The reality is that treaty provides an opportunity to address some of those things in really meaningful ways.”

Mr Walsh had also opposed the proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament to written into the constitution, saying there was not enough detail given before the referendum.

Government says opposition ‘needs to explain’ treaty backflip

Victoria’s treaty process aimed to restore more power to Aboriginal communities to run their own affairs and introduce Indigenous-led policies to help close gaps in areas like life expectancy and over-incarceration.

The state government said the announcement was a complete U-turn on the Coalition’s policy and had not been discussed with the government.

A spokesperson said Opposition Leader John Pesutto owed Victoria’s Indigenous communities an explanation.

“John Pesutto claims to be a moderate but today shows he’s really a wolf in moderate’s clothes,” a government spokesperson said.

“He needs to explain what has really changed his mind, and how much it’s because of Peter Dutton’s creeping influence.”

Mr Walsh said the Opposition was speaking out on behalf of Victorians who were hesitant  to do so.

“Because they know if they do, that effectively limits the chance to get either a cultural heritage study done or to get a successful outcome out of one,” he said.

“This doesn’t mean that we’re not engaged in the process to close the gap, to solve disadvantage in the indigenous community, (we’re) absolutely still committed to that.”

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