REPARATION for Stolen Generation survivors is the most pressing issue Ballarat's Sissy Austin wants to bring to the table for Aboriginal communities across south-west Victoria.
Ms Austin, a Gunditjmara woman, is one of three south-west representatives elected to the Victorian First People's Assembly after a five-week voting process open for the state's Indigenous population.
The assembly will work to guide the state government in the next phrase of treaty negotiations with Aboriginal clans and nations.
One of the assembly's key roles is to make clear issues that should be up for negotiations. Ms Austin said from all the people she met in the south-west, from Warrnambool and Portland through to Ballarat and Geelong, the top priority was a redress scheme for survivors.
Ms Austin's dad Neville Austin was the first survivor of the Stolen Generation in Victoria to gain a written apology from the state government. But, Victoria is the only Australian state without a redress scheme for Aboriginal children taken from their parents between 1910 and 1970 in government assimilation programs.
"My dad was part of the Stolen Generation but probably all of us Aboriginal people have a relative or know someone who was taken," Ms Austin said.
"There was a protest on the steps of parliament about this time this year and the then-Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins has continued to state a state-based scheme could be developed in treaty time.
"Really the scene at parliament house was heartbreaking. Our elders who were members of the stolen generation are now getting old and sick and they deserve this, especially since The (National) Apology was 10 years ago."
Members in the newly-formed assemble will meet for the first time on December 10 in Victorian Parliament's upper house.
The assembly is made up with representatives from five geographical areas but some Aboriginal clans have chosen not to stand because this clashes with their cultural perspective of self-determination.
Ms Austin said she respected the decision of those who chose not to take part in the assembly and took her own participation seriously. She hoped to be a strong voice for young Indigenous people and, in doing so, to engage more young people in the treaty process.
SISSY AUSTIN: NO BY-STANDER TO INJUSTICE | Click on the photo below to read
Ms Austin, aged in her mid-20s, has long been a vocal advocate for Aboriginal people in the region, including leading a call for an Aboriginal flag to be flown on the Daylesford Town Hall.
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Ms Austin was the first person in her family to finish VCE and study at university. In 2013, Sissy was one of two indigenous ambassadors and representatives of the Centre for Indigenous Education and Research to World Youth Day in Rio.
Diap Wurrung Country, and the sacred trees on the Western Freeway near Beaufort, remain a controversial issue for Aboriginal people in this region. Ms Austin said it was hard for many to take moves towards treaty seriously when there were still "bodies on the line" to be heard.
Ms Austin is also strongly backing sales of Crown land be halted until a treaty is reached.
WHAT IS TREATY?
- An agreement between states, nations or governments, including between indigenous people and governments.
- Can be used in many areas including recognition of historic sovereignty, sacred sites, place names, historic wrongs, apologies and how relationships should evolve, possible self-government and land rights and management.
TREATY IN AUSTRALIA
The June 1988 Barunga Statement called for Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights.
Labor prime minister Bob Hawke wanted to conclude a treaty by 1990. It has not happened.
A national Native Title Act 1993 and several state-based agreements cover some of the same ground as a treaty.
WHICH OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE A TREATY?
New Zealand - British representatives signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori chiefs in 1840. The New Zealand government has committed to settling historic and contemporary claims about the breach of treaty principles.
Canada - treaties were signed up to 1920. Since the 1970s, federal and provincial governments have been making land agreements with First Nations without historic treaties.
United States - agreements were signed until 1871. The federal government continues to make "nation-to-nation" agreements with recognised tribes.
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