A Memorandum of Understanding to provide for the development of a framework for negotiating a Treaty with the First Nations of the Northern Territory of Australia.

Background to the Memorandum of Understanding

This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) represents the first significant step in advancing a Treaty in the Northern Territory since the call for a national Treaty in the historic Barunga Statement by the Northern and Central Land Councils.

The Barunga Statement was presented to former Prime Minister, RJ Hawke AC, by Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM and Mr Wenten Rubuntja at the annual Barunga Cultural and Sporting Festival on 12 June 1988.

The text of the Barunga Statement is as follows:

We, the Indigenous owners and occupiers of Australia, call on the Australian Government and people to recognise our rights:

• to self-determination and self-management, including the freedom to pursue our own economic, social, religious and cultural development; • to permanent control and enjoyment of our ancestral lands;

• to compensation for the loss of use of our lands, there having been no extinction of original title;

• to protection of and control of access to our sacred sites, sacred objects, artefacts, designs, knowledge and works of art;

• to the return of the remains of our ancestors for burial in accordance with our traditions;

• to respect for and promotion of our Aboriginal identity, including the cultural, linguistic, religious and historical aspects, and including the right to be educated in our own languages and in our own culture and history;

• in accordance with the universal declaration of human rights, the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, the international covenant on civil and political rights, and the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, rights to life, liberty, security of person, food, clothing, housing, medical care, education and employment opportunities, necessary social services and other basic rights.

• We call on the Commonwealth to pass laws providing:

• A national elected Aboriginal and Islander organisation to oversee Aboriginal and Islander affairs;

• A national system of land rights;

• A police and justice system which recognises our customary laws and frees us from discrimination and any activity which may threaten our identity or security, interfere with our freedom of expression or association, or otherwise prevent our full enjoyment and exercise of universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.

We call on the Australian Government to support Aborigines in the development of an international declaration of principles for indigenous rights, leading to an international covenant.

And we call on the Commonwealth Parliament to negotiate with us a Treaty recognising our prior ownership, continued occupation and sovereignty and affirming our human rights and freedom.

The call for the Commonwealth Parliament to negotiate a national Treaty has yet to be realised. However, thirty years later, the Aboriginal Land Councils remain fully committed to the goals and aspirations articulated in the Barunga Statement.

The NTG, for the first time in its history, is also committed to commencing discussions on developing a Treaty (or Treaties) in the Northern Territory with Aboriginal Territorians. It has established an Aboriginal Affairs SubCommittee of the Northern Territory Cabinet to advance a number of Aboriginal Affairs priorities including a Treaty.

The Aboriginal Land Councils wrote to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory on 2 March 2018 proposing to reach an MOU with the NTG outlining a consultation process for a Treaty with Aboriginal people that is led by Aboriginal people. 

At an historic meeting between the Aboriginal Land Councils and the NTG on 23 March 2018 in Alice Springs it was agreed to establish a Treaty Working Group to develop the MOU.

It is intended that this MOU provides the opportunity, building on the significance of the 30th anniversary of the Barunga Statement, to facilitate consultation with all Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to allow for a framework to be agreed for negotiating a Treaty. Subject to the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978, the Legislative Assembly has power, with the assent of the Administrator or the Governor General to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory.

It is acknowledged that there is a range of Aboriginal interests in the Northern Territory and that all Aboriginal people and their representative bodies must have the opportunity to engage fully in the process agreed to in this MOU.

It is further acknowledged that non-Aboriginal Territorians need to be brought along with this process. It is understood that the use of the word Treaty in this MOU also includes the plural “Treaties” should the proposed framework include provision for negotiating multiple treaties.

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