In the intricate tapestry of Australian politics, David Harris, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, stands at a pivotal juncture.

And as the nation grapples with its colonial past and seeks to forge a more inclusive future, the treaty with Aboriginal people is not just a political commitment but a moral imperative.

However, for this treaty to be meaningful, Harris must ensure that the voices of grassroots Aboriginal people are at the forefront of the conversation.

The Importance of Grassroots Voices

Grassroots Aboriginal communities hold the lived experiences, the stories, and the wisdom that have been passed down through generations.

And their voices offer invaluable insights into the challenges and aspirations of Aboriginal people…. so by listening to these voices, Harris can ensure that the treaty is not just a symbolic gesture but a genuine commitment to addressing the systemic inequalities faced by Aboriginal communities.

Moreover, there are lessons to be learned from overseas.

Countries like New Zealand and Canada have made significant strides in recognising the rights of their First Nations populations.


And central to many of the successes has been the principle of self-determination.

These countries have fostered a sense of ownership and empowerment among their First People populations by allowing First Nations to take the lead in decision-making processes.

And Harris would do well to take a leaf out of their book and ensure that real self-determination is at the heart of the treaty.

Caution Against Over-reliance on Indigenous Government Organisations

While Indigenous government organisations, such as the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC), play a role in the broader conversation, it’s essential to recognise their limitations.

For example, NSWALC often touted as the peak body representing Aboriginal people, is only controlled by its nine councillors. These councillors are also the only members of the organisation, which raises questions about its representativeness.

Furthermore, labelling the NSWALC as the peak body based on votes can be misleading.

For instance, voting areas like the Central Coast in Sydney (and the greater Sydney region in total) likely had more people vote in other elections compared to the NSWALC election, where only 4,124 or 16.5% out of the total 25,000 Members in 2019 actually voted.

Such statistics underscore the need for Harris to look beyond established organisations and engage directly with grassroots communities.

David Harris NSW Labor Treaty Committee & Councillor Charles Lynch
Image: Guardian
NSWALC election - 2019 NSW Aboriginal Land Council Elections
2019 NSWALC Elections

Learning from Past Mistakes with Charles Lynch

The failures of Councillor Charles Lynch serve as a cautionary tale.

And as Harris navigates the complexities of the treaty, he must be wary of repeating past mistakes because there are concerns about Harris having Charles on the ALP Treaty Committee prior to the state election.

And while the past cannot be changed, Harris and the Labor Party must ensure that they seek better representatives and voices in the future.

David Harris stands at a crossroads.

And the treaty with Aboriginal people offers a chance to right historical wrongs and pave the way for a more inclusive future but for this to happen, Harris must ensure that the voices of grassroots Aboriginal communities are heard loud and clear.

By learning from past mistakes and successes overseas, Harris can ensure that the treaty is not just a piece of paper but a genuine commitment to the well-being and prosperity of Aboriginal communities.

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