14 August 2018: Fred Leftwich is driven by justice.
It motivated him throughout a 27-year career in the Australian Public Service, then steered him onto an academic path at the University of Canberra.
Now, it’s taking him to London.
Mr Leftwich is one of four recipients of the prestigious Roberta Sykes LSE Scholarship, which will allow him to undertake a Master of Human Rights program at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in September.
He visited the LSE as part of the Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour of the UK and USA last year.
“LSE looks to the present and future, and that really inspires me,” he said. “With this master’s program, I’ll be able to look at Indigenous issues in a global context.
“The program allows you to choose a subject dear to your heart – and my heart has been set on justice for Indigenous peoples since I was 20.”
Coming from an Indigenous family from the Yarrabah community in Cairns, Mr Leftwich’s heritage lies in the Butchulla, Kuku Yalanji and Doomadgee nations.
He will complete his dissertation on shared sovereignty, grounded in a critique of the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2018.
Mr Leftwich would like to see the shared sovereignty concept in Australia expanded – currently, it includes federal, state and territory parliaments – to include a House of First Nations.
“Constitutionally, Indigenous people are not recognised – we’re talked about in the third person,” Mr Leftwich said.
He feels that recognition is an important part of the Reconciliation process, and that such an initiative would receive popular support.
“The black and white communities are intertwined, we just need shared sovereignty to be recognised as equals.”
Mr Leftwich received assistance with his application from Associate Professor Scott Heyes, who said Mr Leftwich had a burning passion for Indigenous affairs.
“Fred’s always been interested in studying other Indigenous people, their connection to the land and how these other models might apply in the Australian context,” Associate Professor Heyes said.
“Being a scholar will allow him to further reconnect to his own people and place. And he has all the trademarks of a leader: he’s an eloquent spokesperson and can speak in layman’s terms, has a good sense of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations and his life experiences make him an ideal cultural broker.”
Mr Leftwich plans to go into consultancy when he returns from London. He would also like to work in a university, at the intersection of academia and advocacy.
“I’d ideally like to manage an office of Indigenous public policy,” he said. “Also, get my PhD, and write a book on Indigenous issues, from a broader, more complete perspective.
“Advocacy is what I’m meant to do. I joined the public service as an advocate, exploring issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
He found that undertaking the Bachelor of Social Science in Indigenous Studies at the University affirmed much of what he had learned in his work. It also helped him find out just who and what he was meant to be – a sociologist.
“I’ve always been interested in society, in why things happen – the bigger picture. University changed my life, set me on a new path.
“It’s quite liberating to work out who you are after 30 years.”
British High Commissioner to Australia, Her Excellency Menna Rawlings CMG, will present the 2018 Roberta Sykes Scholarships in Canberra on 22 August, along with Richard Potok, Executive Director of the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation and CEO of the Aurora Education Foundation.