The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre’s Annual Oration was delivered by Professor Larissa Behrendt on 23 June 2021, in which she reflected on the 30-year anniversary of the report of 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).

Before guests including respected Elders, scholars, community members and state and federal judicial officers, Larissa’s powerful address highlighted the way that failure to act on the RCIADIC findings and recommendations had impacted both the Indigenous and the broader Australian community 30 years on. Larissa’s address underlined the many ways in which the Australian legal and political systems remain racist, from historical colonisation practices of dispossession of land, eradicating culture and assimilation to continuing policies of removal of children and the tolerance of bias and discrimination in legal cases and legislation. It is in understanding the structural racism and colonisation that exists, Larissa said, that it can be recognised that “it is a system that is in need of repair”.

In an ensuing panel discussion with Magistrate Rose Falla and Director of Aboriginal Services for Legal Aid Victoria, Lawrence Moser, Larissa delivered an exhortation to all Australians and the observation of an “untapped resource (of) good Australians who want to help”.

Larissa’s call to arms was to all members of our community, who she said “as individuals, can all be agents of change”.

Vice Chancellor Adam Shoemaker, as MC for the Oration, applauded Larissa’s agency and advocacy, and fully wrought and deeply thought-through presentation. Katie Miller, newly appointed Chair of the SZCC’s Advisory Board, provided a vote of thanks.

Professor Larissa Behrendt is a Eualayai/Gamillaroi woman and the Director of Research and Professor of Law at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney. Larissa is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia and a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law. She chaired the national review of Indigenous Higher Education, was the inaugural chair of National Indigenous Television and was the Chair of the Bangarra Dance Theatre. Larissa is an award-winning author and filmmaker. She was the 2009 NAIDOC Person of the Year and 2011 NSW Australian of the Year.  Larissa recently published her third novel 'After Story' and recently won an Australian Director Guild award for her film, 'After the Apology', looking at increased rates of Indigenous child removal since the Australian Government’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008.

You can listen to Larissa’s 2021 Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Oration on ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas: Deaths in custody and songlines.