First reconciliation, then comes a treaty

Age - 6th June 2000

A broad cross-section of Aboriginal leaders yesterday agreed they had much work to do in their communities to build support for a treaty between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

Their meeting endorsed a range of short and long-term strategies to build support for a formal reconciliation agreement.

They want to minimise the danger of such a treaty becoming a divisive issue, and stress the need to work at a regional, state and national level to meet practical needs.

The meeting decided to form a committee of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission to deal with the issue.

ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark said later: "There is unity about the call we have made, even though it was agreed there is much more work to be done with our people to bring them up to speed on the debate.

"But it was very clear that, at the end of a long road, there needs to be a treaty ... there needs to be that informed consent by indigenous people about a range of issues that will bring about settlement in this country."

Among those who attended the Melbourne meeting were Pat Dodson, Peter Yu, Noel Pearson, Professor Marcia Langton , Michael Mansell, Gary Foley, David Ross and ATSIC commissioners Charlie Perkins and Ray Robinson.

In a conciliatory move, Mr Clark praised the work of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation after the council's chairwoman, Evelyn Scott, last week warned that talk of a treaty was premature.

"We don't see ourselves at odds with the Reconciliation Council or other groups that are also doing lots of good work, like the churches, the unions and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation," Mr Clark said.

"We need to take this to the rural and remote areas as well as the urban areas. We need to be a bit creative about using modern technology to do that."

The meeting decided to set up a group as a community resource and a research tool for Reconciliation Australia, the foundation to take on the work of the Reconciliation Council when it winds up on December 31.