I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.
Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Constitution Education Fund Australia;
Chief Justice and Justices of the High Court of Australia;
University Vice-Chancellors and Executives;
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Lynne and I are delighted to be here this evening and I am delighted, as the Governor-General has been for some time, to be Patron-in-Chief of the Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA).
During my tenure as Governor-General, I look forward to working with my most eminent predecessor Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffrey, the Board of Directors, the Chief Executive, and indeed all men and women of CEFA, as you raise public understanding and appreciation of our Constitution, its history and contemporary relevance.
Initiatives such as the Governor-General’s Prize are a vital part of this, and I am pleased that after ten years the Prize continues to move from strength-to-strength. For a decade, this prize has attracted outstanding university undergraduates who, in addition to their demanding course work, have invested time and academic rigour to produce contemporary analysis of our Constitution and of our system of government.
So tonight we gather, appropriately, at the High Court of Australia to recognise and celebrate a new group of impressive young people who have taken the time to consider, understand and engage with our Constitution.
I congratulate each of them tonight—Bowen, Daniel, Freeman, Rosalind, Henry and Robin—for the obviously high quality of their essays, and of course their motivation and talent.
I hope they realise they have marked themselves as bright stars of the judicial galaxy and thus must now live up to our expectations of them!
I also want to thank the many esteemed members of the judging panel, chaired by the Honourable Justice Susan Kiefel AC, for dedicating their time and expertise to determining the winners, and the recipient of the Governor-General’s Prize.
Before handing over to the Honourable Justice, I want to reflect for a moment upon the focus of the essays for this year—the movement to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution.
When I became Governor-General nearly a year ago, in the Senate I quoted from the Statements on Indulgence of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition concerning the posthumous awarding of the Victoria Cross to Corporal Cameron Baird.
I observed that “those remarks, that unity of spirit, that instinct to reflect the mood of the Australian people at a special moment, was as much representative of the strength of our democracy as any of the partisan issues of our times”.
Addressing the inaugural gala dinner of RECOGNISE in December last year, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition each affirmed their mutual commitment to work together to achieve constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.
As Governor-General, I believe this is an important issue for us all and I to take the opportunity here tonight to reiterate that I want to encourage all Australians to become actively involved in the discussion and debate over constitutional recognition, and to exercise their democratic rights as citizens.
Tonight, we are reminded that not only has constitutional recognition of indigenous people transcended the political divide, it has also inspired and occupied the deliberations and considerations of the judicial branch of our democracy.
I look forward to meeting this year’s winners and to hearing their fresh perspectives on this important issue for Australia.
In closing, again, thank you to all involved with CEFA and your efforts to promote a greater understanding among Australians of the Constitution’s role and importance.