Push for a Northern Territory treaty ‘lost momentum’ after Mick Dodson’s resignation, acting commissioner says
The Northern Territory's acting treaty commissioner has conceded the process towards an NT treaty "lost momentum" following a scandal that saw the resignation of the former commissioner last year.
- A key report guiding the path to a treaty in the NT is due to be handed down in March
- Former treaty commissioner Mick Dodson resigned from the role last June
- His replacement, Tony McAvoy, will step away from the role after the report is finalised
Tony McAvoy SC, a prominent Sydney-based barrister and treaty advocate, began in the role in Darwin last week and will remain commissioner until a key report is handed down in March.
Since March 2019, the Treaty Commission has been working to highlight a path to treaty or treaties with First Nations people in the NT.
A report due by the end of March will advise the government on the outcome of extensive consultations and a treaty framework.
Mr McAvoy's predecessor, former Australian of the Year Mick Dodson, resigned from the role in June 2021 and apologised after allegations surfaced that he verbally abused a woman at a football match.
"There's no escaping some loss of momentum," Mr McAvoy said of the fallout of Professor Dodson's resignation.
"But I can see a high level of goodwill from both the government and the Aboriginal community, particularly the land councils, but across the community."
Mr McAvoy said his entire office was impacted by Professor Dodson's resignation.
"I feel as though the people in the office felt some of the pressure that comes with that sort of media attention," Mr McAvoy said.
"But they are very professional people, and they were able to continue on in the role they were engaged to do."
Mr McAvoy said he would ensure all parties understood where the report was heading before it was tabled, to speed up the process.
"There are not going to be shocks and there's not going to be a lengthy time period required for consideration of what's in the report," he said.
"People should have a fairly good idea and be able to move quickly.
"I think that's a necessity. It's a necessity to ensure the momentum that is now being developed is not lost again."
Tony McAvoy confirmed he would not continue in the role beyond March.(ABC News: Che Chorley)
Despite some setbacks, the high-profile silk said the commission was close to finalising the document.
He also confirmed he would not be leading the commission after tabling the report.
"I came here on the understanding that I would continue my practices as a senior counsel," he said.
"I have other roles to do, and part of my commitment to the Northern Territory government included an understanding that I have existing obligations that I can't, and I'm not prepared, to set aside."
However, he rejected suggestions his departure would create further instability in the office, saying the next part of the process was a "new stage".
"The stage that will be reached by the tabling of the report is a significant milestone," he said.
"It is a continuation of a long process, but I don't think having to change the commission in any way, in terms of its leadership, is going to affect its ability to do what needs to be done."