Family’s Holocaust past drives Aussie lawyer in efforts for indigenous peoples


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – The co-chair of a panel aimed to “end the exclusion” of Australia’s indigenous peoples from the nation’s constitution cited the effects of the Holocaust on his family as a driving force in his work.

Mark Leibler, a Melbourne lawyer and co-chair of the Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, wrote in an op-ed Jan. 20 in The Age newspaper that “racism doesn’t just belong in another place or time. It casts a shadow here in Australia because it is still part of our nation’s constitution.”

The panel the previous day released a report, ordered by the prime minister, into changing the constitution to recognize that Australia was first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“It was racism and its off-shoot Nazism that caused my parents to flee Belgium in 1939," Leibler wrote. "It was racism that saw my maternal grandparents murdered in Auschwitz.

“My family has never forgotten our debt to Australia. We owe our freedom, prosperity and the very lives of our children and grandchildren to this country. For me, one way I can help repay this debt is by working to change our constitution for the better.”

Indigenous people were “invisible” as far as the Constitution is concerned, he continued. “No mention of their heritage and cultures; no mention of their place as the first inhabitants of this country and as the world’s oldest continuing cultures.”

A change to the constitution would require a national referendum, probably in 2013, to remove racially discriminatory provisions.

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