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Aboriginal women seek legal stop to SA "treaty" process

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Three Narungga women will seek a Supreme Court injunction today to prevent a meeting which they say has been called to make a final decision on treaty negotiations with the South Australian Government.

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Susan Dixon, Kylie O’Loughlin and Linda Webb have taken the action against the Narungga National Aboriginal Corporation Regional Authority which is leading negotiations between the Yorke Peninsula-based Narungga people and the Government.

The action highlights some confusion about the treaty process and the role of “agreements” with individual Aboriginal groups.

Dixon told InDaily that the authority had not consulted with the right people in the community and was seeking to hurry through a final decision at a meeting called for January 20.

Dixon, who with O’Loughlin is a recent University of Adelaide law graduate, said she was concerned that the implications of the treaty agreement had not been properly explained – particularly its impact on community land holdings – and that some Narungga people were not even aware that negotiations were underway.

The process so far had been “appalling” in its lack of transparency and respect for democratic processes, she said.

“We have never had the opportunity to look at the documents or seek independent legal advice,” Dixon told InDaily.

“The community has not been consulted.”

She said she wasn’t necessarily opposed to a treaty but the community needed to be fully involved in the process.

“This needs to be done properly. There needs to be transparency. Our elders are all against it.”

Dixon said she was also concerned that the treaty process was now being described by the parties as an “agreement”, while the Government says such an agreement is a precursor to a treaty.

The chairperson of NACRA, Tauto Sansbury, disputed Dixon’s claims that the community had not been consulted adequately.

However, he said he did not view the negotiations as a “treaty”. Rather, he said it was a “services agreement” with the government, covering issues such as housing, employment and child protection.

“The allegations and what is being put to the court are incorrect,” Sansbury told InDaily.

“This is something we have worked very hard for over a number of months to get to where we are now.

“We have continually kept our Narungga nations informed of anything we have done.”

In a notice to the community ahead of an earlier community meeting, held on January 6, NACRA indicated that “treaty” negotiations were urgent.

“Due to State Government Caretaker Period coming into place in February 2018, and the fact that the Opposition has confirmed it does not support Treaty discussions with our First Nations, we have a limited window to consider whether Narungga People want to enter into a Treaty Agreement with the State of South Australia,” the notice said.

“We do not have a firm Agreement at this stage and are still in negotiations, but we have set the above date to report back to you as Narungga People on whether you support an Agreement or not, and to let you know where the negotiations are up to. It will be up to you as Narungga People to determine whether an Agreement of the kind on offer is a good thing or a bad thing.”

The notice said the January 20 meeting would determine a “final decision”.

However, today, Sansbury insisted the change in definition had been explained at the January 6 meeting.

“This is not a treaty process,” he told InDaily. “It’s a services agreement between the Narungga people and the Government”.

Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Kyam Maher insisted a treaty was still in the offing.

“We are in discussions about an initial agreement, which is the first step in the treaty process,” he told InDaily.

He said any final agreement would not be negotiated with “individual or small groups”.

“The State Government has been in discussion with Narungga and other groups over many months and any final agreement will not be for an individual or small groups, it will be a decision for those Aboriginal groups as a whole,” he said in a statement.

Maher announced a state-based treaty process in 2016 and appointed a treaty commissioner the following year to consult with Aboriginal people.

Negotiations with individual Aboriginal groups, including the Narungga people, began in September last year.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall opposes the treaty process, saying he would prefer resources to be directed towards addressing disadvantage.

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