Mick Dodson is a Yawuru man from the Broome area in Western Australia. He was the first Indigenous Australian to receive a law degree following studies at Monash University in Melbourne.
A proud, courageous and humble Aboriginal leader, Dodson has served in a wide range of challenging roles and has been an enthusiastic advocate for social justice. He joined the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service in 1976 and became a barrister at the Victorian Bar in 1981. He assisted the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in the late 1980s and was appointed Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner in 1993. Dodson subsequently pursued an academic career and is Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University.
Professor Dodson is a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and continues to pursue positive progress in Australian Indigenous affairs as Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced in February 2019, Professor Mick Dodson as the Northern Territory’s first-ever Treaty Commissioner.
THE NORTHERN TERRITORY TREATY PROCESS
In the lead up to NAIDOC week the Federal Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt Spoke at the National Press Club. He spoke about what seems to be a new and refreshing approach to Indigenous policy nationally.
He mentioned the NAIDOC themes for 2019, which is Voice, Treaty, Truth. He likened the voice as a cry to all levels of Government to stop and listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians. He see the voice being developed at local, regional and national levels and that he intends to work with state and territory Ministers to develop the concept.
Mr Wyatt said he intends to listen and have genuine conversations with everyone to work together to a way forward.
Wyatt says he intends to implement a code-designed process with his colleagues, relevant departments and Indigenous peoples. He adds he is in charge of developing an enhanced local and regional decision-making.
The Minister says he will pursue a consensus option for Constitutional recognition to put to a referendum during the current Parliamentary term. Wyatt says he does not want to proceed if they are not going to be successful. He adds he is seeking the counsel of Indigenous leaders on the matter.
He adds a truth-telling process allows Australians to reflect on the place of First Nations people and has to happen at all levels across Australia. Wyatt notes the Bringing Them Home Report opened the records of child removals which was painful but necessary. He notes truth sets a person free and they are willing to listen to the truth to find a common ground to walk on. Wyatt says it is important for states and territories to take the lead in implementing treaties.
Mr Wyatt said many other things during his address to the NPC but as the NT Treaty Commissioner I have outlined those matters which I think are most relevant to my job as treaty Commissioner in the NT. And, I want to talk about my job in the NT as Treaty Commissioner.
I really don’t have any difficulty in working within the parameters outlined by the Minister – they are very broad – as they should be. It’s a good start.
However, Mr Wyatt had barely time to catch his breath after his speech when the Prime Minister Mr Morrison ruled out any possible government support for constitutional recognition of a Voice to parliament. Drawing lines in the sand before any exchange of ideas or listening to what Indigenous Australians might have to say and examining those perspectives is a little premature and disrespectful. We ought not to be surprised this is standard behaviour from our colonisers each and every time. Non-Indigenous interests always trump those of Indigenous peoples! Putting aside the PM’s unhelpful intervention what can Mr Wyatt’s pronouncement offer for the future and the realisation of the NAIDOC themes? Moreover, what are the opportunities for a lasting reconciliation?
The NAIDOC themes are central matters for a final agreement or agreements between Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander First Nations Peoples. In this presentation I want to examine these questions I have raised and to examine Mr Wyatt’s plea that the States & Territories take the lead in making treaties with Indigenous First Nations. What role if any does the Commonwealth have in this process? Who will be the Listeners to the Indigenous Voice?