UNSW professor named Chair in Constitutional Law

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Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous and Professor of Law at UNSW Sydney Professor Megan Davis has today been named the Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law endowed by The Balnaves Foundation, on the third anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Balnaves Foundation has committed $1.25 million to UNSW’s Indigenous Law Centre to establish a term Chair in Constitutional Law for Professor Davis to enable her to ensure the advancement of this critical national agenda.

“The Uluru Statement from the Heart invites all Australians to walk with First Nations peoples in a movement for a better future. It is fitting that on the anniversary of the historic day when, on behalf of the Uluru senior leadership, I read the Uluru Statement to the Australian people, we recommit to progressing Voice, Treaty and Truth,” Prof. Davis said.

“Three years on, the Uluru Dialogue continues the work towards the first stage of the Uluru Statement, constitutional reform and achieving a more just, prosperous future for Australia’s First Nations peoples.

“It is an honour to be named Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law. My priorities as Chair will be to provide the academic rigour needed to inform development of proposals for constitutional amendment and institutional design of a voice to Parliament, as well as the foundations of a future Makarrata Commission as set down in the Uluru Statement, to oversee agreement making across the federation and to facilitate truth telling processes.”

President and Vice-Chancellor at UNSW Sydney, Ian Jacobs said the University has been proud to be part of this journey through UNSW’s Indigenous Law Centre based at UNSW Law, the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous and the many students and colleagues who supported the movement.

“I wholeheartedly congratulate Prof. Davis on her appointment as Chair and thank The Balnaves Foundation for making it possible,” Prof. Jacobs said.

“The strong engagement with the Month of Awareness on social media is a reminder of the importance of constitutional reform and the ongoing momentum to champion a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice.”

The Balnaves Foundation has a longstanding relationship with UNSW, with a total philanthropic commitment to the University of nearly $5.5 million, including over $2.5 million to Indigenous medical scholarships and a further $75,000 towards the UNSW Indigenous Law Centre and their work on progressing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The Balnaves Chair in Constitutional Law is a gift in honour of Alexandra Balnaves, who passed away in April last year. Alexandra was the daughter of Diane and Neil Balnaves AO, sister to Hamish and Victoria Balnaves, and mother to Caillean and Leith Honor.

“Megan’s work in constitutional reform was very important to Alexandra. It gives us great pleasure to support this ongoing effort in a way that Alexandra would have wholeheartedly embraced,” Neil Balnaves AO said.

“I was privileged to have a close relationship with Alexandra, who deeply understood the potential for structural reform and was a great source of professional strength to me throughout the Referendum Council’s dialogue process,” Prof. Davis said.

Among the Chair’s goals for this year, are the following:

Lead the scholarly work that must underpin law reform to ensure it is evidence based
Engage the Uluru leadership through the ‘Uluru Dialogues’ process to maintain consensus and ensure their voices remain at the heart of Voice, Treaty and Truth
Elevate the voices of the Uluru leadership to correct the misalignment of post-Uluru work with the intention of Uluru
Public legal education on constitutional recognition
Support the ‘Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition’ campaign and participate as a director.
The UNSW Indigenous Strategy will also be strengthened as the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Indigenous will now be supported by the appointment of a Chief of Staff in the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous portfolio, as well as three additional staff in Nura Gili, Centre for Indigenous Programs at UNSW Sydney. The University’s Indigenous Strategy is designed to increase UNSW’s Indigenous student body and workforce, improve research excellence and grow Indigenous researchers and leaders who will make an impact in communities and nationally.

Biography of Professor Megan Davis
Professor Davis is Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous UNSW and a Professor of Law, UNSW Law. Professor Davis was elected by the UN Human Rights Council to the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples based in Geneva in 2017 and again in 2019 (2019-2022). Megan is an Acting Commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court. Professor Davis is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences. She is a member of the NSW Sentencing Council and an Australian Rugby League Commissioner. Professor Davis was Director of the Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW Law from 2007-2017 and Director of the Bill of Rights project at the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law 2002-2004.

Professor Davis is formerly Chair and expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2011-2016). As UNPFII expert Megan was the focal point for UN Women and UN AIDS. During this period of UN service, Megan was the Rapporteur of the UN Expert Group on an Optional Protocol to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2015, the Rapporteur of the UN Expert Group on Combating violence against Indigenous women and girls in 2011 and the UN Rapporteur for the UN Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Youth in 2012. Megan has extensive experience as an international lawyer at the United Nations, participating in the drafting of the UNDRIP from 1999-2005 and is a former UN Fellow of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Professor Davis is a constitutional lawyer who researches in public law and public international law. Her current research focuses on constitutional design, democratic theory and Indigenous peoples. Professor Davis has been the leading constitutional lawyer working on Indigenous constitutional reform since 2011. In 2015 she was appointed by the Prime Minister to the Referendum Council and designed the deliberative constitutional dialogue process the Council undertook. In 2011, Megan was also appointed to the Prime Minister’s Expert Panel on the Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution and continues to be involved in legal discussions on the constitutional issues relating to the referendum model.

Professor Davis was appointed Commissioner to the Queensland Commission of Inquiry into Youth Detention in 2016 and was appointed Chair of the Inquiry into Chair, NSW Review into Aboriginal Out of Home Care

Professor Davis was named Australia’s most influential women in the Australian Financial Review/Qantas 100 Women of Influence Awards and was awarded the overall winner of the Public Policy section. Professor Davis was named in the 2017 Australian Financial Review annual power list and was ranked number seven on the Cultural power list for her work on constitutional reform and delivering the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Professor Davis was also shortlisted in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence Awards in Australia in 2013 and 2016. Davis was awarded ANU Alumni of the Year in 2018 and the United Nations Association of Australia QLD UN Award in 2016. In 2015 Davis was awarded the 58th E.S. Meyers Memorial Medal by the UQ Medical Society and was awarded the University of Queensland Acorn Award by Duchesne College in 2015. In 2014, Davis was awarded a University of Queensland Alumni Award for services to the United Nations and constitutional reform and in 2013 was awarded the National Australia Bank/Women’s Agenda Inspirational Ambassador Award. Professor Davis was also awarded the 2010 NAIDOC Scholar of the Year.

Professor Megan Davis holds a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Australian History) from the University of Queensland and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, Master of Laws (International Law) and Doctor of Philosophy from the Australian National University.