“A vital concern for my constituents is the exclusion of 38 clans who have a rightful place at the negotiating table. This has caused tremendous grief for many families who had hoped that they may see recompense for having this land stolen – only to have the door slammed on them.
“We left the meeting with an agreement that we could work together. If the assembly committed to working with those 38 clans, I could voice support for the process.
“I am more than happy to meet with anyone who is genuine about advancing the treaty process with the views of all Aboriginal Australians. I hope that Geraldine Atkinson and the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria will come to agree that all views should be represented.”
The 38 nations model is a contested interpretation of traditional ownership in Victoria.
Ms Atkinson’s letter claimed the senator acted in a manner unbecoming of an elected official despite attempts to calm the conversation.
“Senator Thorpe again aggressively spoke over the top of me, saying that I am being very well paid in my work. When I retorted that she too was being well paid in her role, she interrupted me and became even more aggressive, stating that she doesn’t respect me and would not meet with me again,” the letter said.
“At that point, I was so upset at the continued abuse that I got up and left the meeting.”
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong was made aware of the incident and raised the matter with the leadership of the Greens the following day.
Jill Gallagher, chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and a former Victorian treaty commissioner, said she saw Ms Atkinson after the meeting in a lobby of Parliament House.
“She couldn’t even talk, she was that distressed,” she said.
The heated episode highlights the division within the Indigenous rights movement between more pragmatic reformists who work within institutional frameworks and the more radical elements of the community who seek quicker and more profound changes.
Senator Thorpe walked out of talks for the Uluru Statement in 2017 and has been critical of Victoria’s treaty and process. She has a loyal group of supporters but her critics in the Greens and in the progressive movement argue her opposition to some Indigenous advancement processes works to stymie realistic reforms that have widespread support.
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