The Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner position is currently vacant.
The Northern Territory's first Treaty Commissioner was Professor Mick Dodson. He was in the role as the Treaty Commissioner from March 2019 to June 2021.
Professor Dodson is a highly respected Aboriginal Advocate who has spent his working life fighting for the rights and interest of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Born in Katherine, Professor Dodson AM is a member of the Yawuru peoples, the Traditional Aboriginal Owners of land and waters around Broome. He was chosen as Australian of the Year in 2009.
Professor Dodson AM is a long term barrister and lawyer and specialises in Native Title and human rights. Most recently he has been Professor of Law at the Australian National University and Director of its National Centre for Indigenous Studies. He has been a visiting academic at the University of Arizona and served as Chair of Australian studies at Harvard University.
Professor Dodson AM was Counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, is a former CEO of the Northern Land Council and in 1993 was appointed the country’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, a post he held until 1998.
Professor Dodson AM has been a prominent advocate of land rights and other issues affecting Indigenous peoples in Australia and globally and has served as the Pacific member on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Treaty Commissioner's role
The NT Treaty Commission in the NT is an independent office, headed by the NT Treaty Commissioner, launched in early 2019. The role of the Treaty Commissioner is laid out in the Northern Territory Treaty Commissioner Terms of Reference (TOR) as well as the Treaty Commissioner Act 2020 . The TOR strongly reinforce the Treaty Commissioner’s status as an independent officer as follows:
“The Commissioner and their staff must act independently and impartially. The Commissioner will not be subject to direction from the Northern Territory Government. Similarly, the Commissioner’s staff will only be subject to the direction of the Commissioner or another member of the Commissioner’s staff.“
The job of the Treaty Commissioner is to:
a) Facilitate consultation with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory regarding a Treaty; and
b) Develop a framework for Treaty negotiations;
The Treaty Commissioner is required to inquire, report, investigate and make recommendations on these things to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and Parliament.
Specifically, responsibilities are:
- Undertaking consultation with First Nations and Aboriginal people to ascertain their support for a Treaty;
- Undertaking consultation with Aboriginal representative bodies and organisations on afuture treaty process;
- Undertaking research in relation to a Treaty and providing advice to government, First Nations, Aboriginal communities and Land Councils on best practice, to support futureTreaty negotiations in the Northern Territory;
- Developing a suitable framework to further Treaty negotiations with the Northern Territory Government;
- Providing advice to government in relation to the most appropriate and effective form of Aboriginal representation for any future Treaty negotiations;
- Ensuring that the broader public, including non-Aboriginal Territorians, are engaged;
- Managing the operations of the Treaty Commissioner’s Office, including staff and budget allocations; and
- Establishing internal protocols and procedures, including reporting systems, to ensure information is communicated to government, the Land Councils, and the Treaty Working Group.
Key outputs are to devise and implement a consultation program with two stages:
- Advise and share information and ideas about different best practice approaches to negotiating and settling a Treaty nationally and internationally.
- Explore possible models for a Treaty in the Northern Territory.
- Provide explanations of the legal context of a Northern Territory Treaty.
- Determine the level of interest in a Treaty amongst First Nations and Aboriginal Territorians.
An interim report is to be provided to the Chief Minister and a discussion paper for public release prepared by March 2020.
- Release of a public discussion paper to facilitate informed discussions about the matters outlined under ‘role’.
- This stage of consultations will revolve around the content of the discussion paper and an assessment of whether a consensus or majority view exists on all or any of the substantive items included in the Discussion Paper.
- Make recommendations to the Northern Territory Government on next steps and the appropriate framework to be put in place to undertake Treaty negotiations.
A final report on the outcomes of consultations, recommendation of next steps and a proposed negotiation, framework for Treaty to be proceed in the NT is to be delivered to the Chief Minister no more than 18 month after delivery of the interim report discussion paper.
It is important to reiterate that the Treaty Commissioner's role is NOT to negotiate treaties. It is to make recommendations for a framework to negotiate treaties to the NT Government.
Deputy Treaty Commissioner
The Northern Territory Deputy Treaty Commissioner is Ms Ursula Raymond.
Ms Raymond is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman born and raised in the Territory and has lived and worked here most of her life. Ms Raymond has been involved in a number of major consultations across the NT.
She has an extensive background in media and communications, including senior roles at the Northern Land Council and the ABC, and has worked at both a Federal and Territory government level.
A key component of Deputy Commissioner Raymond’s role will be to ensure that Aboriginal culture is respected and practiced appropriately when consulting with Aboriginal women and girls across the NT.