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Cutting Chai with Dr Shireen Morris

Dr Shireen Morris is a constitutional lawyer and advocates for multicultural support for the Voice Referendum.

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Dr SHIREEN MORRIS is a constitutional lawyer and Director of Macquarie University’s Radical Centre Reform Lab. A key convenor of the Multicultural Australia for the Voice alliance, she is currently advocating for multifaith and multicultural support for the Voice Referendum.

You’ve long been an advocate for Indigenous constitutional recognition. What made you so passionate about this?

Dr Shireen Morris: It kind of happened by accident; I was always interested in Indigenous rights and social justice, perhaps that’s a symptom of growing up non-white in Australia and coming from countries with their own colonial histories, India and Fiji. During my law degree, I did an internship at the Cape York Institute, where I met Noel Pearson, and he must’ve been impressed with something I did because he offered me a job working on Indigenous constitutional recognition – that was 12 years ago!

You’re the director of the Radical Centre Reform Lab. Can both sides of politics get along?

Dr Shireen Morris: There was massive pushback from the political right when we first proposed a racial non-discrimination guarantee. Noel felt support across the political spectrum was important for constitutional reform, so we went through this extraordinary process of reaching out to our ideological opponents like Professor Anne Twomey and MP Julian Leeser, and we came to understand their objections. They helped us come up with a better solution – that’s how this proposal for an Indigenous advisory body guaranteed by the constitution came about – and that’s what we’d call a ‘radical centre innovation’, it came through collaboration with people across the divide.

Your specialty is constitutional law. What’s something interesting or strange in the constitution?

Dr Shireen Morris: There’s a clause called the ‘race power’, Section 51(xxvi), [introduced in 1901, amidst migration concerns] which gives the Parliament power to make special laws for the people of any race. In practical reality, that power has only ever been used to make laws about Indigenous people [who were excluded from the section until 1967], such as The Native Title Act, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act – it can support positive or adverse laws.

What’s something that you’re currently listening to/reading/playing/watching?

Dr Shireen Morris: Bay of Fires (ABC), a series set in a dingy little Tasmanian town – only just started it, so we’ll see how it goes.

What’s a word that you like in a South Asian language, and what does it mean?

Dr Shireen Morris: I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old, and the slang word we like to use is ‘dhoodhoo’, which he will say if he wants milk.

And finally, Soan Papdi or Papdi Chaat?

Dr Shireen Morris: Wouldn’t say no to either, but the savoury, spicy one [Papdi Chaat] for sure.

Read More: Cutting Chai with Shahmen Suku

Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy
Lakshmi Ganapathy is an emerging journalist and theatre-maker based in Melbourne.

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