Distinguished guests, I am very pleased to stand before you as the Attorney General. I am absolutely delighted most people are not offended by my lack of legal qualifications, because when they find out that I am also black, the goona* will head for the fan.
I realise my task ahead is really a big challenge and I am sure that more than one term in office is needed for me to embed my reforms. Wish me luck but, also, please get on board.
First, I have the Australian Constitution in my sights.
I am determined to have a successful referendum to define and defend the distinct and societal characteristics of the Australian population. By ‘characteristics’ I mean the array of civil liberties and privileges that spring from the distinctiveness, and the collective interests, of all the people, the tradition and the land. Naturally I want the essence of Aboriginal society to be captured but the road to a good charter need not be a one-sided mission, occupying the first peoples.
Our ‘Human Charter’ can be an exciting and redeeming happening for all sections of the national community of Australia, even as exciting as the 2000 Olympic Games.
I am going to announce 2011 as the Year of Australian Celebration to engage everyone in the search for Australia’s heartbeat. And the official recording of the year will become the national document of exploration for reconciliation.
It is quite obvious that I intend to beat the odds and achieve one of the best referendum outcomes in Australia’s history. My bid for a referendum will not be a centralised, insular and elite campaign. It will be a local, community-designed and assisted groundswell, relying upon maximum engagement and community self-expression. Most of all, it will be fun and inspiring. No section of Australian society, no matter how different or how isolated, will be allowed escape from the fuss and limelight.
It is in this environment that a constitutional definition of Australia’s diverse cultural society is achieved and, in the process, protected and valued.
Next, a ‘constructive agreement’ with the Aboriginal people will be struck. This will be accompanied by a ‘constructive agreement’ with the Torres Strait Islander people. You might want to call it a treaty, but for now I am going to call it a mutual agreement. It will be a legal document that empowers and constitutes the collective existence of the first peoples in the Australian legal system, and authorizes them to establish their formal institutions in a compatible way.
Of course this will occupy much of my time as Attorney General, but I also have another priority. I plan to dramatically reduce the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women, youth and children who are ‘wards of the State’. I intend to halt the march of new-born Indigenous babies into foster homes and care, youth detention and then prisons, by creating intervention at all levels.
No, this is not more control of Aboriginal lives; just the opposite.
My ‘intervention’ will be to facilitate community-level actions which target the vulnerable, at-risk people, but which also builds the infrastructure for community to cope with new demands, such as care for children and community placement and training for youths and adults. I expect the biggest opposition will come from the States and Territories seeking to keep their constitutional powers and responsibilities, so my actions must be collaborative and persuasive.
I know this is not a new idea and is idealistic, but it will be a coordinated and sustained effort.
To give it life and determination, I will create a national Ombudsman for Indigenous Freedoms and Dignity, intended to focus upon the remedies to non-familial care and incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This Ombudsman will have the resources to be well-engaged by communities and governments.
Associated with this targeted goal will be my reforms of the legal system including the institutions. Indigenous laws and systems will be addressed in the constructive agreement already mentioned, but our traditional legal system, borne out of Latin and European origins must have some adaptations to deal with the imposition upon the first laws and practices of Australia. The legal system must be able to interact constructively with customary law and produce outcomes of restorative justice. It must also find justice at the community level, where the poor and powerless have a say in defining and implementing justice.
What are the details?
I am sorry but I will need to commission further study of this strategic objective, engage with experts at all levels of government, and hear from people who feel as victims to an unfair system.
What can one person do, after all?
I will need help from all people in Australia to become ‘the world’s best Attorney General’.
Les Malezer is Executive Director of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action and Chairperson of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus to the United Nations
*Goona is Aboriginal slang for excrement