A message from President Arthur Moses SC
This week is National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week. It is a week when all Australians should take some time to celebrate the diversity and richness of the cultures of this country’s First Nations. It should also be a time for reflection in relation to the injustice of their dispossession and incarceration, and the current levels of disadvantage that continue to plague their existence in modern Australia.
Late last year the Bar Association hosted an event at which Noel Pearson, Director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership, and Professor Megan Davis spoke about the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement represents the collective wishes and intentions of First Nations delegates from across Australia who attended the Uluru convention in May 2017. The purpose of that convention was to bring forward proposals for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls on all Australians to commence a journey to a different future. That journey includes recognition of a First Nations voice (the Voice) to Federal Parliament enshrined in the Constitution and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to pursue truth telling and treaties. The call for a Voice is a request for a mechanism by which First Nations people can have a greater say about the legislation that effects their lives. There is much moral force to be found in the call for a truth telling commission and treaty commission.
At present, a Joint Select Committee of the Federal Parliament is conducting an inquiry into the Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association have both made submissions to the inquiry and several members of the NSW Bar Association have separately given evidence at the hearings on behalf of the LCA and ABA. Both the LCA and ABA gave unqualified support to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
As active and integral participants in the law and justice system, our views will be sought and will be influential. As I have noted before, we know Indigenous Australians are, proportionately speaking, the most incarcerated on Earth. This diminishes us as a nation. Sovereignty and dispossession, recognition and representation of interests: they are different facets of the same problem. It is something that the Bar has a duty to help solve.
Perhaps the most useful contribution to NAIDOC week we each could make is to take a few minutes to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart and consider how the wishes of First Nations People can be accommodated and given life. If you have a few more moments read Paul Keating’s 1992 Redfern Speech, the 25th anniversary of which was commemorated at a Bar Association event earlier this year. In attendance at that event were representatives of the Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Medical Service, NSW Government , NSW Opposition and the Police Commissioner.
I encourage you all to embrace NAIDOC week and celebrate the possibilities of a better future for all Australians.
Arthur Moses SC