Cancelling Australia’s Founding Father Weakens the Constitution: Prominent Legal Group

Cancelling Australia’s Founding Father Weakens the Constitution: Prominent Legal Group
File photo showing the words 'cancel culture' typed on a typewriter. (Markus Winkler/Unsplash)
6/29/2022
Updated:
6/30/2022

One of Australia’s foremost legal associations has pushed back calls to “cancel” Sir Samuel Griffith, a pivotal figure in Australia’s history, as it argued doing so would undermine the nation’s rule of law.

It comes after Indigenous artist Fiona Foley proposed to removed Griffith’s name from Griffith University and instead call the institution ‘Dundalli University.’ Dundalli is the name of an Indigenous warrior who led the resistance to European settlement in South-East Queensland.

The suggestion was a response to historian Henry Reynolds’ controversial book Truth-Telling, published in 2021. In his book, Reynold accused Griffith of being an “enabler” of massacres by not doing enough to prevent the clash between Europeans and Indigenous clans in Australia.

However, the Samuel Griffith Society, which is set up to encourage greater understanding of Australia’s Constitution, defended Griffith’s legacy, arguing “Australians continue to enjoy its benefits, more than a century after his death.”

Xavier Boffa, the chief executive of the society, wrote in a newsletter sent to its member on Tuesday that “we can ill-afford to allow moves to ‘cancel’ Griffith to go unanswered.”

“To do so risks fundamentally weakening our Constitution and everything that it represents—the principle of responsible government, our federal system, the separation of powers and the rule of law,” Boffa said.

Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, the Queensland Premier who was the guiding hand behind Australia's Constitution. (AAP image)
Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, the Queensland Premier who was the guiding hand behind Australia's Constitution. (AAP image)

A  Founding Father of the Australian Constitution

Griffith is recognised as one of Australia’s founding fathers who drafted the nation’s first criminal code and co-drafted the Constitution.

He became Australia’s Chief Justice in 1893, and was also involved in the drafting of the deferral Judiciary Act 1903, which established the High Court of Australia.

Boffa previously argued that while he didn’t agree with all of what Griffith did as a politician, “none of that detracts from the significance and value of his work as a jurist and drafter of the Constitution.”

“Just as we can acknowledge the talent of great sportspeople, artists, and musicians without necessarily endorsing all of their actions or beliefs, we should be able to separate the good done by those who came before us from debates about more contestable aspects of their legacies,” he wrote on the Spectator Australia on June 27.

The chief executive further warned that the move to “cancel” Griffith “might be pretext for fundamentally rewriting the Constitution itself.”

The comment comes as the new Labor government pushed to implement the Uluru Statement “fully.” This includes amending the Constitution to entrench an Indigenous ‘Voice’ to Parliament, establishing a truth-telling process to record “past and ongoing injustices against Indigenous Australias,” and creating a treaty.

However, prominent Indigenous community leader Warren Mundine said the current concept of truth-telling is rooted in the narrative of guilt and victimhood. He added that Australia is “one of the most successful country” in terms of its efforts to improve Aboriginal Australians’ life.

“Truth-talking is about a conversation. It’s about us having a conversation, talking about the real history of Australia, and working together to move forward,” he told The Epoch Times.

“It’s not throwing names and insults at each other and making people feel guilty or feel like they’re victims.”

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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