Australia Day 2018: Gillian Triggs supports Aboriginal treaty

Former Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has warned against a top-down treaty imposed by Canberra.

Associate Editor


Former Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has thrown her support behind calls for the Turnbull government to reach a treaty with the Aboriginal people, saying it is nothing to fear.

But speaking at a “Justice Through Treaty” event, held on Australia Day to mark two key Aboriginal community anniversaries, Professor Triggs warned that a top-down treaty imposed by Canberra would not work.

The former HRC head lamented that a four-year process that started with legislation gaining the unanimous support of federal parliament had resulted in last year’s Uluru Statement issued by Aboriginal leaders at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention being “dismissed in relation to its primary requirements”.

Read Next

Hard knock focus as overseas heat comes on concussion research

Jon Ralph

“It’s a tricky process — and (the statement) was to parliament, not in parliament,” she said.

“But I’m really saying that a treaty is not to be frightened of, that every comparable country with indigenous populations — Canada, the United States, New Zealand — all have treaties and they have done for a very long time.

“We’ve not come to that — but a treaty is not to be frightened of. It is basically an agreement, and it gives status to people who have been disempowered.”

READ MORE:Success built on toil and ability|‘Settlers got better part of deal’|‘I hope it burns to the ground’

Professor Triggs said she saw some positive signs of progress from efforts to negotiate a treaty at state level with discussions in South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria.

“Like a lot of things, we are getting leadership from the states that we are not getting at a federal level,” she said.

“Programs can work but only if we consult with the people. With my experience as president of the Human Rights Commission, I can say that with the best will in the world, and a lot of money, these programs always fail if you don’t consult the people.”

Today’s “Justice Through Treaty” event in Sydney began with a march from Redfern Park to Hyde Park in the CBD, followed by speeches from Professor Triggs and others including ACTU secretary Sally McManus, feminist academic Eva Cox, Labor MP Linda Burney, NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker and journalist Jeff McMullen joined Aboriginal leaders in speaking up for a treaty.

The event was held to coincide not only with Australia Day but to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1988 “Long March” and the 80th anniversary of the 1938 “Day of Mourning”.

The call for a treaty is intended to build on the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s request last year for a “Makarrata” — a Yolgnu word for coming together after a conflict.

The event’s organisers said they backed the “Change the Date” campaign to move Australia Day, so that the national day was not based on the landing of the First Fleet and the British claiming sovereignty in 1788 without any agreement of the first people to inhabit the land.

But they said that Change the Date, while “important”, was not their sole focus. They were committed to negotiating a lasting treaty that advanced the interests of “First People Nations”.