Alice Tay Lecture on Law & Human Rights: Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson on 'The paradox of race in Australian legal thought: making the invisible visible'

Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson sitting in front of a bookshelf

The Herbert & Valmae Freilich Project for the Study of Bigotry is pleased to invite you to the 2021 Alice Tay Lecture on Law and Human Rights. This year’s Alice Tay Lecture will be presented in conjunction with the CASS Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Sub-Committee.

Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson will be presenting on the topic 'The paradox of race in Australian legal thought: making the invisible visible'

As a concept ‘race’ has a history that predates the formation of Australia as a Federation and race powers are embedded in the Australian constitution. Australian governments and the judiciary have worked in tandem or independently to conceptualise race in legal thought. Race was salient in the first piece of legislation passed by the new Federal parliament as the Immigration Restriction Act which was assented on the 23rd of December 1901. This Act enabled the development of the White Australia policy, which remained in force until the 1970s. In the past decade ‘race’ has surfaced in public discourse about constitutional reform to limit the capacity of parliament to use its race power to discriminate negatively against Indigenous people and people of colour. This paper situates past and present key legal definitions of race to consider evolving meanings in historical and contemporary context. It argues that while ‘race’ is understood as a biological fiction, the law continues to import biology to give meaning to its effect and in doing so creates a paradox.

Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson is a Goenpul woman of the Quandamooka people (Moreton Bay). She is Australia’s first Indigenous Distinguished Professor, and is currently Professor of Indigenous Research, School of Social Science at the University of Queensland. She is the current President elect of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). Her publications have international standing and global reach. The twentieth anniversary edition of her first monograph Talkin Up to the White Woman: Indigenous women and Feminism released in July 2020 sold 2000 copies in a matter of days. Her second monograph The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty (2015) won the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association’s (NAISA) subsequent book prize in 2016. Her edited collections include Whitening Race: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism 2004 (AIATSIS), Sovereign Subjects: Indigenous Sovereignty Matters 2007, Allen & Unwin, Transnational Whiteness Matters 2008, Lexington Press, Critical Indigenous Studies: First World Locations and Engagement published by Minnesota Press in 2016 and the Routledge Handbook of Critical Indigenous Studies, published in December 2020. Professor Moreton-Robinson served on several international editorial boards including American Quarterly, the Journal of the Native American and Indigenous Studies and Critical Ethnic Studies. In 2020, she was the first Indigenous scholar outside of the USA to be elected as an Honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities.


2021 Alice Tay Lecture on Law and Human Rights

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