Supporting treaty and agreement making in NSW

Dr Maria Bargh has supported efforts to promote agreement making between Australian governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by appearing on a Reconciliation in Parliament panel at the NSW Parliament.

Reconciliation in Parliament is an annual event that aims to foster dialogue between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in NSW and their state government representatives; this year’s event on 24 October focused on treaty and agreement making options for NSW. Arranged by Reconciliation NSW (the peak body for advancing reconciliation in NSW), all NSW MPs were invited as well as Aboriginal organisations in the wider Sydney region and the general public.

Discussions around having a treaty are becoming more prominent in NSW, with the NSW Labor Party having committed to negotiating and signing a treaty with NSW First Nations peoples if elected to government in 2019. The panel formed part of the ongoing discussions that consider how treaty processes might work in NSW, and what individuals, communities and organisations can do to support this process.

An expert in Māori politics and Tumuaki/Head of School of Te Kawa a Māui at Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Bargh (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa) was invited to speak on ‘Having a Treaty’—the realities of the Treaty of Waitangi for Māori and New Zealand. She spoke about the rights the Treaty of Waitangi provides for Māori in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements and the challenge Māori have in holding the Crown to account. She also talked of the importance of friendships between the parties to the Treaty and amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to foster the political conditions that enable Indigenous rights to be upheld.

Professor Margaret Hyland, Vice-Provost (Research) at Victoria University of Wellington, says contributing knowledge gained through research into the experiences and thinking of Māori in New Zealand is an area where the University has much to offer.

“This is a superb example of research that resonates internationally because it is distinctively New Zealand-centred, not in spite of that.”

Dr Bargh spoke alongside Commissioner Jill Gallagher AO (Gunditjmara) whose groundbreaking and newly created position is tasked with establishing the Aboriginal Representative Body, which will create the process for negotiating a treaty in the state of Victoria. The other panellists were Tony McAvoy (Wangan and Jagalingou) who spoke about high-level strategic approaches for treaties; and James Christian (Wiradjuri) who detailed the existing First Nations representative structures in NSW and their potential role in advising and negotiating with governments and other stakeholders.

Dr Bargh said, “The view from politicians and scholars in Australia is that Māori rights are firmly protected because of the existence of the Treaty of Waitangi. However, listening to the progress of their negotiations towards treaties in NSW and Victoria, it’s apparent that the challenges Aboriginal peoples and Māori face are more similar than not.”

Professor Larissa Behrendt hosted the discussion, which was recorded by ABC Radio. You can listen to it on Professor Behrendt’s Speaking Out show.