Indigenous treaties in Australia

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Indigenous treaties in Australia describe legal documents defining the relationship between Indigenous Australians (that is, Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders) and the Government of Australia or the government of an Australian state or territory. As of 2020 there are no such treaties in existence.[1] Australia is the only Commonwealth country to lack an Indigenous treaty.[2] By contrast, colonial administrations in New Zealand and Canada negotiated treaties with local Indigenous people during early contact, through the Treaty of Waitangi and the Numbered Treaties respectively.[3] The only pre-21st century attempt to negotiate a treaty with Indigenous Australians, Batman's Treaty, was declared void by Governor Richard Bourke in order to preserve the concept of terra nullius, that Australian land belonged to no-one before British colonisation.[4][5]

An Indigenous treaty was first promised by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1988 after receiving the Barunga Statement from Aboriginal elders, which called for such a treaty to be concluded.[2] With no progress made towards an Indigenous treaty at federal level, in the early 21st century a number of states and territories began treaty negotiations with their Indigenous peoples, starting with Victoria.[1] The issues covered by an Indigenous treaty with a state government are likely to include health and education.[3]

State and territory treaty processes[edit]


The Victorian Government of Daniel Andrews was the first at state level to pass a legal framework for indigenous treaty negotiations, in 2018.[1][6] The Victorian Liberal Party opposed a state-based indigenous treaty, stating that a federal treaty would be more appropriate.[6] Opposition politician Bernie Finn also stated that since Aboriginal Victorians were Victorian citizens, the state would be making an indigenous treaty with itself, an argument rejected by the Government.[7] The 2019 Victorian First Peoples' Assembly election was held to choose the representatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria.

Northern Territory[edit]

In 2018 the Northern Territory Government of Michael Gunner pledged to undertake a treaty process with Indigenous peoples of the Territory, including the appointment of an Independent Treaty Commissioner to oversee negotiations.[8] Gunner subsequently signed the "Barunga Agreement", a memorandum of understanding committing his Government to negotiate with the Territory's four Aboriginal land councils over the next three years to develop a treaty process.[9] The process will be overseen by an independent treaty commissioner, who in the first stage will undertake consultations for one year with the Indigenous communities to gauge their interest in a treaty.[9] In the second stage, a public discussion paper wlll be released, translated into major Aboriginal languages for consultation and feedback.[9] A final report will then be tabled in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly within 18 months of stage one's completion.[9]

South Australia[edit]

In 2016 the South Australian Government of Jay Weatherill announced its intention to negotiate treaties with Indigenous groups across the state, announcing that $4.4 million was set aside over five years for the purpose.[10] Following the Weatherill Government's defeat in the 2018 state election, incoming premier Steven Marshall paused the treaty negotiation process that had been begun by his predecessor, Jay Weatherill, stating he wanted to focus on "practical outcomes".[11][12]

Western Australia[edit]

In 2015 the Western Australian Government of Colin Barnett signed a $1.3 billion native title settlement with the Noongar people,[13] which was described by deputy opposition leader Roger Cook as "a classical treaty".[14]


In 2019 the Queensland Government of Annastacia Palaszczuk announced its interest in pursuing a pathway to an indigenous treaty process.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Australia moves towards Aboriginal treaties". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 8 June 2018. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Why doesn't Australia have an indigenous treaty?". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 24 May 2017. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  3. ^ a b "What will Indigenous treaties mean?". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 14 December 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  4. ^ "The Batman Treaty". SBS On Demand. Special Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  5. ^ "Batman's treaty". Ergo. State Library of Victoria. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  6. ^ a b Afshariyan, Nkayla (7 June 2018). "Australia's first Aboriginal treaty negotiations passed in Victoria". triple j. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  7. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (21 June 2018). "Victoria passes historic law to create Indigenous treaty framework". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  8. ^ Wellington, Shahni (8 June 2018). "Indigenous treaty a step closer after NT Government's historic pledge". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d Allam, Lorena (8 June 2018). "NT signs historic Barunga agreement to begin Indigenous treaty talks". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  10. ^ Australian Associated Press (14 December 2016). "SA government aims to sign treaty with Indigenous Australians within 12 months". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  11. ^ Wahlquist, Calla (30 April 2018). "South Australia halts Indigenous treaty talks as premier says he has 'other priorities'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  12. ^ Kurmelovs, Royce (12 December 2018). "SA's Aboriginal Affairs Action Plan slammed as 'collection of dot points'". NITV News. Special Broadcasting Service. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  13. ^ Poloni, Gian De (8 June 2015). "WA Premier signs $1.3 billion Noongar native title deal". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  14. ^ Hobbs, Harry. "Will treaties with Indigenous Australians overtake constitutional recognition?". The Conversation. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
  15. ^ Siganto, Talissa (14 July 2019). "'Long time coming': Queensland commits to Indigenous treaty process". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 July 2019.