Mr Eddie Synot
Australia lacks both a foundational recognition of Indigenous people as First Peoples and a formal mechanism to include Indigenous peoples in democratic decision-making so that we may negotiate our relationship. We will be asked to rectify this by amending the Australian Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of Australia through a Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution. The reasons for this lack of recognition are multiple and varied, yet combined their impact make the task of retrofitting a constitutional mechanism which meaningfully addresses the ongoing presence of Indigenous people difficult. Not only are we having to develop a mechanism from which we base our relationship, but we are forced to justify the basis of our claims as First Peoples. We face counterclaims the Voice would breach fundamental principles of the rule of law and equality of citizenship. We face too the baggage of a nation whose existence was underwritten by dispossession and denial. The enormity of this task is unsurprising. So too claims about the rule of law and equality. Those same institutions used to facilitate our dispossession, which for some would be used to deny us again, despite presenting on their terms, in their language, according to their reason. The rule of law and principles of equality don't exist independently of us, of society. That is clear enough in the variances of its application and outcomes for Indigenous people. This points to the intersection of political and legal aspects of the rule of law, and the deeply political reasons masquerading as simple concern for the rule of law being used to deny us again. Some eschew discussion of greater political or moral points, wanting to avoid accusations of moralism and guilt, preferring a strict separation of the political and legal as though we are abstract, individual, and formally equal actors. We only deny ourselves and reality by doing so. We face a reckoning - a reckoning with our history, of who we are and will be, and with of our commitment to the rule of law and equality. Will we deny Indigenous peoples again and continue to accept the entrenched, generational inequality and disadvantage too many of our people suffer; or can we rise to the challenge and accept the responsibility before us to make real change.
Eddie Synot is a Wamba Wamba First Nations public lawyer and a Senior Engagement Officer for the Uluru Dialogue, working with the team led by Professor Megan Davis and Pat Anderson AO on progressing the Voice to Parliament. Eddie is also Lecturer at Griffith Law School, Griffith University, and a Centre Associate with the Indigenous Law Centre at UNSW Sydney. Eddie has been working with the Uluru Dialogue and the Indigenous Law Centre toward constitutional reform since 2018.