Anne Conway and Bobby Wise. Photo; Andrew Perryman

A RECORD crowd attended the official launch of NAIDOC Week last Monday.

NAIDOC representatives estimated there were some 300 to 400 people in attendance in the Library Gardens where the Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony took place.

However, before official proceedings took place, a one-minute silence was held to acknowledge the passing of Jaara Jaara elder, Uncle Brien Nelson.

After the Smoking Ceremony the crowd, which included traditional owners and elders, Mayor Margaret O’Rourke and representatives from a variety of Bendigo agencies proceeded into the town hall.

The theme of this year’s NAIDOC week was then introduced by Treaty Election Assembly Officer, Bobby Wise.

The Uluru Statement built on generations of consultation and discussions among indigenous people on a range of issues and grievances was rejected by the Coalition government.

As a result, Aboriginal communities and the Victorian government are working towards a treaty.

The first step towards a treaty, according to Mr Wise, was the need to agree on “ground rules” including who can negotiate.

Mr Wise said his job was to facilitate an election process which will result in the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

“Assembly members will elect an executive and a chairperson to lead assembly business,” he said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have always wanted an enhanced role in decision-making in Australia’s democracy.”

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, which will be the voice for Aboriginal communities during the next phase of the treaty process, will be set up in October 2019.

The assembly will be made up of 33 seats and only people who are Traditional Owners of Country in Victoria can qualify to be a member of the assembly.

They must also be at least 16 years of age.

Mr Wise said the basic issues that will concern the assembly will centre around education, health and culture.

A self-determination fund will be set up by the Victorian state government to support negotiating parties.

MP Lisa Chesters said the ALP supported the treaty, which was critical to the interests of the First Nations people.

By opening up NAIDOC Week to the general community Ms Chesters said the local Aboriginal community was both generous and welcoming.

– Dianne Dempsey