Launch of Reform 93: Native Title and the ALRC’s inaugural RAP

David Weisbrot, Tranby College Glebe, 8 April 2009

Part one, c11.15am

Thank you Lyndon Coombes, for that Introduction—and for allowing us the use of these wonderful facilities at Tranby Aboriginal College.  This year the ALRC and Tranby have forged a special relationship, and one that I am sure will remain warm and productive into the future. 

And thank you very much Michael West, for that Welcome to Country. 

And WELCOME friends—

On behalf of the Australian Law Reform Commission, let me acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, who are the originators of the customary laws and the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet— and I pay my respects to their elders, both past and present. 

We extend that respect to other Indigenous peoples, the first people of this land.  We acknowledge the vital contribution that Indigenous people and cultures have made, and still make, to the nation that we share.  As Australians, we walk together towards the future.

The ALRC is fortunate, as always, to have the warm support of many distinguished people here today, including among others:  

  • Attorney-General, the Hon Rob McClelland MP
  • Mr Tom Calma, ATSI Social Justice Commissioner
  • Chief Justice, Federal Court of Australia, the Hon Michael Black AC
  • Former ALRC President, Dr Elizabeth Evatt, and current Commissioners and staff of the ALRC
  • Reconciliation Australia: CEO Paul O’Callaghan, Adam Mooney and Kerrie Nelson
  • Reform authors: Tom Calma, Sean Brennan, Vance Hughston SC, Tony McAvoy, Alison Vivian, Neil Ward, Graeme Neate (President of the National Native Title Tribunal) and Emeritus Prof Garth Nettheim AO ( a Living Legend in this field, whom I understand taught the AG some years ago at UNSW).  Chief Justice Robert French—a former ALRC Commissioner—and the Minister Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, both of whom contributed important pieces to this collection, send their apologies.
  • John McKenzie, Chief Legal Officer, ALS (NSW/ACT) 
  • Alan Kirkland, CEO of Legal Aid NSW
  • Janet Mooney, Director of the Koori Centre
  • Representing the US Consul-General’s office, Casey Mace.

Today we’re launching two documents, the ALRC’s special edition of Reform on Native Title, and the ALRC’s inaugural Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

It’s my genuine pleasure this morning to introduce the Australian Attorney-General, the Hon Rob McClelland, to formally launch the RAP.

When I first met with Rob McClelland in his new capacity as AG, shortly after the November 2007 elections, I informally raised with him some areas I believed were in critical need of law reform, some of which might become potential projects for the ALRC. 

And the very first thing that the Attorney said in reply was: We must address problems with Native Title to make sure it’s delivering positive outcomes for Indigenous communities. 

Since that time, we’ve had:

  1. the historic Apology to Indigenous people, offered by the Prime Minister in the Parliament just over a year ago.
  2. Just a few weeks ago, the Attorney introduced important amendments to the Native Title Act, to achieve quicker, more flexible negotiated settlements of native title claims. 

    As the Attorney stated on that occasion, “Native title is about more than just delivering symbolic recognition.  Native title is an opportunity to create sustainable, long-term outcomes for Indigenous Australians.”
  3. Just a few days ago, the Australian Government announced that it now supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, joining the 143 other nations that supported the Declaration, which was 22 years in the making. 

    Remarkably, Australia was one of only four countries to vote against the Declaration on 17 September 2007; happily, we have now reversed that bad mistake. 
  4. Perhaps less well know than the other initiatives, but nevertheless very important, was the decision of the Attorney-General to ask all of the agencies within his portfolio—including the ALRC—to develop Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs).  

And so we are particularly thrilled to have the Attorney here with us today to launch our RAP.

This initiative really captured the imagination—and inspired the creative energies—of the whole Commission.  Our RAP Committee (which was meant to be ‘small’, but soon comprised 1/2 the Commission!) got wonderful advice about how to proceed from:

  • Steven Ross, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations
  • Megan Davis, Director of the Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW
  • Neva Collings, NSW Environmental Defenders Office; and
  • Maurice Shipp (then Director of Studies at Tranby).

We then refined the Plan with expert assistance from Reconciliation Australia—especially Kerrie Nelson, the Adviser on Government RAPs—and we hope to keep working closely with you to further develop the Plan over time.  (Thank you Kerrie for describing the ALRC’s RAP as setting the ‘benchmark’ for other government agencies.)

With this RAP, the ALRC commits itself to a number of important actions.  To mention just a few:

  1. Everyone at the ALRC was involved in a very successful two-day Aboriginal Cultural Appreciation Training program, which was devised and delivered at Tranby by Maurice Shipp—whose generous gift of original artwork now forms the cover of our RAP.  
  2. We developed a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgment of Country Protocol, which we have relied upon today.
  3. We have established an Indigenous Advisory Committee, to advise on all aspects of the ALRC’s work, including the identification of potential future projects and the improvement of our engagement and consultation with Indigenous communities.  I am delighted to announce, for the first time, the distinguished Membership of that Committee:
    • Prof Sally Goold OAM, ED of the Congress of ATSI Nurses and the 2006 Senior Australian of the Year
    • Tom Calma
    • Neva Collings
    • Megan Davis
    • Steven Ross
    • Maurice Shipp (now with the ACT Government)
    • Professor Larissa Behrendt, UTS and the Jumbunna Learning Centre
    • Terri Janke, Entertainment, Cultural Heritage and Media Lawyer
    • Darryl French, Program Manager, Tranby Aboriginal College; and
    • three others still to be confirmed.
  4. We are in the process of establishing a dedicated Indigenous Law Student Internship program.
  5. We are committed, wherever possible, to promoting ATSI artists and designers—and you can see firsthand the spectacular results produced by Gilimbaa, the company that designed this special issue of Reform.  Special thanks and congratulations to David Williams, the Creative Director of Gilimbaa, and Amanda Lear, Managing Director, both of whom have flown from Brisbane to be with us today.

The RAP is a work-in-progress and a living document — this is just our first step.  We know there is more to achieve. 

And now, finally, to formally launch the ALRC’s RAP, I’d like to call upon the Attorney-General, the Hon Rob McClelland MP.

Part two, c11.30am

Thank you very much, Attorney. 

Flowing out of that initial conversation with the Attorney, the ALRC decided to help contribute to informed community debate about Native Title by dedicating the latest edition of our journal Reform to that topic.

I must emphasise that this is not an ALRC report, and it doesn’t contain any formal findings or recommendations.  What we have endeavoured to do is to present a wide range of voices from the leading thinkers in the complex area—and importantly the majority of the authors in this Issue are Indigenous people.

Some of those voices are reformist, some are radical; some are dispassionate, and some make plain their bitter disappointment.  We need to hear all of those perspectives, and take in all of those ideas for change. 

My personal special thanks to Prof Les McCrimmon, the supervising Commissioner for this edition; Sabina Wynn, who handled the production; and Erin Mackay, Carolyn Adams, Jonathan Dobinson, Michelle Hauschild and Vicki Jackson for their editorial support. 

We were very fortunate to get ATSI Social Justice Commissioner Mr Tom Calma to write the lead, scene-setting, article in this edition—and we are again very honoured to have him here to launch Reform 93: Native Title.

Mr Calma is an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group, whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and on the Coburg Peninsula in Northern Territory, respectively. He has been involved in Indigenous affairs at all levels, from local to international, and has worked in the public sector for over 35 years, including as a teacher and a diplomat.  Not least, he was GQ magazine’s 2008 Man of Inspiration. 

Part three, 11.45am

Emma Donovan has established herself as one of Australia’s finest Indigenous artists seamlessly blending genres from Country and Gospel to Soul and Reggae with her traditional language—Gumbayngirr.

Emma’s vast concert experiences include performances in The Royal Concert Hall, London; Musee de Quai Branli, Paris; Benaki Museum, Athens; Tjibaou Cultural Centre, New Caledonia; Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau; Treaty Grounds of Waitangi, New Zealand; and the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

With the inclusion of traditional language through her songs, Emma is committed to educating the global community to understand more about the depth of Aboriginal culture and spirituality.

Emma’s new EP & Video, entitled Ngarraanga (‘Remember’), will be launched to the media on May 28th and is a tribute to the Stolen Generations.

Emma Donovan, singing at the launch of the ALRC Reconcilliation Action Plan

The two songs Emma will perform now are ‘Ngarraanga’ and ‘Try’, and Emma is accompanied on the guitar by Adrian Petlevanny. 

Part four, 12pm

Thank you Emma and Adrian for that amazing performance.  The song titles ‘Remember’ and ‘Try’ perfectly encapsulate the spirit of this event, the spirit of reconciliation—and it comes through so powerfully in the music. 

Finally, my warmest thanks to those involved in organising today’s event—especially Sabina Wynn, Alayne Harland, Trisha Manning, Michelle Hauschild and Vicki Jackson,  and as always to all the staff of the ALRC for their extraordinary dedication, hard work and good humour.

Please take a copy of Reform and of our RAP—and for your interest, all of the articles in Reform can be downloaded from our website at no charge.

Thank you very much all for coming, and please remain to share some refreshments with us.

David Weisbrot


*Photo: Emma Donovan performing at the launch of Reform 93.