The Wheeler Centre
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Question Time: Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians
Public opinion is now overwhelmingly in favour of the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s Constitution. What would be the symbolic and practical implications of such a change – and who is leading the push for a referendum?
Join us for an exploration of the history – and potential legal, social and philosophical impacts – of constitutional change. How was our Constitution drafted, and how did Indigenous Australians come to be excluded at the birth of Australia’s federation? Why do discriminatory racial references remain in our Constitution, even after amendments to the document were carried in 1967?
Question Time hands the discussion to you for a full hour of Q&A with our expert panellists. Unpack the laws and philosophies that have come to bear on the autonomy and acknowledgement of Indigenous Australians – from terra nullius, protectionism and forced assimilation to land rights, self-determination and potentially imminent constitutional recognition.
Hosted by Madeleine Morris, with former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission CEO Patricia Turner, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation CEO Jill Gallagher, ANU law professor and Indigenous Studies academic Frank Brennan and leading constitutional lawyer George Williams.
Madeleine Morris is a Melbourne-based reporter for ABC television’s 7.30. She was formerly a presenter for the BBC in London and reported from dozens of countries before returning to her native Australia. She is the author of Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding: Why Your Formula-Fed Baby Can Grow Up To Be Happy, Healthy and Smart, published by Finch.
An Arrernte and Gurdanji woman, Patricia Turner has 40 years experience working primarily in Aboriginal affairs at the local, regional and national levels. She has had a long and varied career in the Australian Public Service, with senior roles including CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Departments of Aboriginal Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet – with oversight of the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and with responsibility for the Office of the Status of Women among other matters.
George Williams AO is one of Australia’s leading constitutional lawyers and public commentators. He is a professor of law at the University of New South Wales and has written and edited 34 books on Australian government and the Constitution, including Everything You Need to Know about the Referendum to Recognise Indigenous Australians.
Jill Gallagher AO is a Gunditjmara woman from Western Victoria who has worked within, led and advocated for the Victorian Aboriginal community all her life.
Since 1998 this has been through the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), now one of Australia’s largest and most effective state Aboriginal peak advocacy organisations. As CEO since 2001, Gallagher has led a major growth in the organisation’s status by working to raise its profile and to position it as the key body in addressing Aboriginal health issues.
In 2010, Gallagher was included in the Victorian Honour Roll of Women and in 2013 she was appointed to the Order of Australia in recognition of her strong and effective leadership in Aboriginal health.
Frank Brennan is a Jesuit priest, professor of law at the Australian Catholic University, and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University.
Brennan has been actively committed to Indigenous reconciliation, justice and recognition for over 30 years. He began as a volunteer in the first Aboriginal legal service in Australia, was an Ambassador for Reconciliation and was described as ‘the meddling priest’ by Keating in 1998 during his involvement in Wik. His books on Indigenous issues include The Wik Debate, One Land One Nation, Sharing the Country, Land Rights Queensland Style and No Small Change: The Road to Recognition for Indigenous Australia. He watched the passage of the first Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) in the senate in Canberra in 1976 and his father Sir Gerard Brennan was a High Court Judge on the Mabo case.