Notre Dame student recognised for commitment to Indigenous issues

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Winter 3-7-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



An unwavering commitment to Indigenous social justice issues in Australia and excellent leadership qualities have earned Notre Dame student Peter Dawson the 2012 John Koowarta Reconciliation Law Scholarship.

The scholarship, presented by the Law Council of Australia, is in honour of John Koowarta - a traditional owner of the Archer River region in the Cape York Peninsula who famously challenged the Queensland Government in the High Court from breaching the Federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975. His case created an important precedent for the Mabo trial in 1992 which found the existence of native title in Australia.

The aim of the scholarship is to assist Indigenous Australians in completing their legal studies which gives them a platform to contribute meaningfully to their profession, their people and their community. Mr Dawson says he is extremely honoured to receive a scholarship which pays tribute to an "inspirational Indigenous leader".

"I am humbled to be counted amongst the successful Indigenous lawyers and law students who have received the scholarship in previous years," Mr Dawson said.

"The scholarship gives me a sense of pride and achievement in the work I have already done towards achieving justice for my people and inspires me to continue on this path."

The fifth-year Law/Arts student at Notre Dame's Fremantle Campus and former high school graduate of CBC Fremantle is passionate about improving the state of Indigenous affairs and recognition within his home city and around the country.

In addition to his demanding study requirements, Mr Dawson is the co-chair of the National Youth Advisory Council to the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence and is part of the Aboriginal Lawyers Committee of Western Australia which is organising the National Indigenous Legal Conference to be co-hosted by Notre Dame and the University of Western Australia.

He is also the Fremantle student representative of The University of Notre Dame Australia's newly formed Indigenous Education Consultative Group and delivers talks to high school students in Perth about Indigenous social justice issues, racism and reconciliation.

"Reconciliation requires healing Indigenous individuals and communities and educating all Australians so that we can overcome prejudice. Importantly, we need to start celebrating and cultivating Indigenous success and move away from the deficit language of disadvantage," Mr Dawson said.

Mr Dawson has just completed studying the Indigenous Peoples and Law unit at Notre Dame under being taught at the Fremantle School of Law by Adjunct Professor Greg McIntyre SC. Mr McIntyre acted for the plaintiffs in the case of Koowarta v Bjelke Petersen and the case of Mabo v Queensland.

Mr McIntyre said Peter was a worthy recipient of the scholarship.

"Peter is a young Koori man who has shown natural leadership and an ability to take advantage of the opportunities which are presented to him," Mr McIntyre said.

"His studies in law, politics and international relations have enabled him to assist in organising a national forum of young Aboriginal people on the hot topic of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution. Peter also takes the time to spread a positive message about Indigenous social justice issues to high school students.

"He will no doubt use the scholarship to expand his already evident leadership capacity."

After graduating in 2013, Mr Dawson hopes to be an effective advocate for his people with a focus on human rights law, Indigenous cultural and intellectual property and native title.

MEDIA CONTACT: Michelle Ebbs: Tel (08) 9433 0610; Mob 0408 959 138 Leigh Dawson: Tel (08) 9433 0569; Mob 0405 441 093