Master treaty and regional treaties

Last year (2006) the North Illawarra Reconciliation & Treaty Group held a Treaty Now! forum at Wollongong (NSW) on Mabo Day, 3 June.

The key-note speaker Dr Bruce Duthu ( a visiting Native American scholar) outlined the work he was doing on the concept of a Master Treaty which would set a framework for regions to negotiate the actual substance of treaties.

The modern approach is to talk of a (one size fits all) Treaty at the National level. Dr Bruce was working on a new approach which would avoid some of the problems of the one size fits all Treaty,


A post-modern approach shifts the emphasis to talking about treaties, located at regional levels and tailored for specific conditions.

For example, a Treaty which would be good for First Peoples in Central Australia might be not so good for indigenous peoples on the East Coast of Australia. The ‘shoe’ which fits well in Central Australia may cripple its wearers on the East Coast (and vice versa).

The history of colonisation (aka ‘contact’), while sharing many similar features, is quite different in both cases.

On the East Coast the insistence that it is “English only spoken here” has had to be endured for several generations, with predictable effects. In Central Australia, the degree of impact (population wise) has been less, and it has only been a couple of generations (in some cases).


Ten years of the Howard government has generally stifled discussion and debate about treaty issues.

All the more reason for people within a peoples movement to keep talking about the fundamental flaw in the foundations of modern Australia – no treaty with the original peoples.

And to do so in creative ways, such as the approach suggest by Dr Bruce Duthu for a master treaty at the national level which would enable regional treaties to be negotiated at levels closer to where we actually live our lives.

One initiative for a post-modern peoples movement is to develop the conceptual groundwork necessary for the regional level treaties to emerge. And the sooner the better.