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Constitutional recognition and the law


Cite as: July 2015 89 (7) LIJ, p.15


A plaque acknowledging the Kulin nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which the LIV sits has been installed in the lobby of the LIV.

It also symbolises the LIV’s acknowledgment of the devastating impact of colonisation and the role that the legal system has played in the progression of disadvantage and discrimination towards Indigenous Australians.

The plaque was unveiled on national Sorry Day on 26 May, and preceded a forum on what lawyers should know about Indigenous constitutional recognition with barristers Tim Goodwin and Peter Hanks QC and Pekeri Ruska, a solicitor with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, as featured speakers.

LIV president Katie Miller said the LIV was proud of its 156-year history but with that history came a need for reconciliation.

“As lawyers, we need to reconcile how the legal system, which we uphold every day in our practices, could produce such injustices to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We need to reconcile the system of law and justice inherited from Britain with the systems already existing at the time of white settlement. Each of us needs to reconcile how the many peoples who share this land can recognise, respect and live with each other,” Ms Miller said.

“Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is our chance for reconciliation writ large – a communal act of acknowledgment, forgiveness and commitment to a shared tomorrow.”

Federal leaders have indicated that a referendum on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, which the LIV supports, may happen in 2017.

Ms Miller said lawyers had an important community education role to play in the process.

“Individual citizens are more likely to learn about our constitutional arrangements from US TV shows and Facebook forwards than social studies classes. No wonder then that so many people still think we have a bill of rights or at least individual rights like the right to free speech or ‘the fifth’.

“Irrespective of what you think about the merits of the proposal, as lawyers, we have an obligation to educate our community . . . to explain what the changes would mean in law and in practice.”

Tim Goodwin said the Australian Constitution reflected who we were, not who we are and it was important to update the story. Continuing racist and discriminatory elements in the Constitution were problematic.

Peter Hanks said of 44 proposals put to a referendum in Australia, only eight had passed.

Pekeri Ruska, who urged lawyers not to vote in a referendum on the topic, said the conversation around constitutional recognition was “a platform to distract us from having real conversations about Aboriginal nationhood and self-determination. [It] will serve to legitimise the invasion of our lands, the genocide and assimilation of our people, ignoring and dismissing our fundamental right as Indigenous peoples to self-determination”.

The plaque launch and the reconciliation forum were LIV Reconciliation Action Plan events.


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