Sir Kenneth Bailey Memorial Lecture: Les Malezer

Breaking Laws and Making Laws on Indigenous Peoples: From the National to the International


In this lecture, Mr Malezer draws on his extensive experience working in local, national and international organisations on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to consider the contemporary challenges to changing laws and doctrines regarding the status of Indigenous peoples in Australia. He recounts his personal perspectives on the way in which international processes on the rights of Indigenous peoples can supplement the national processes to enhance the goals of justice and equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The lecture was presented at the Melbourne Law School on 6 September 2023.

About the Speaker

Les Malezer is descended on his father’s side from the Gubbi Gubbi / Butchulla peoples of the Mary River and Fraser Island region of southeast Queensland and, on his mother’s side, from the Gamiliroi peoples of northwest NSW.

Les Malezer’s working career commenced in 1972 with the Commonwealth Department of Labour and National Service in Brisbane, pursuing training and work opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. He was then transferred to Canberra after the Whitlam government was elected into the newly-appointed Department of Aboriginal Affairs soon. In the public service he quickly advances to senior positions in the Commonwealth public service before joining to the Queensland government to become head of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs under the Goss administration in 1990.

Apart from his career in government Les Malezer also worked extensively in community-controlled organisations at the local, regional, national and international levels, and he held important posts in representative bodies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. He was the Chairperson of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) in 1974 and has continued to hold that position on many occasions when not in conflict with his employment.  He continues as the Chairperson  of FAIRA in the present times.

Les Malezer became Secretary General of the National Aboriginal Conference in 1984, joined the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1989, and was appointed as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 2002. In 2010, he was elected Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.  He served two terms as Co-Chairperson in this role.

He has expert knowledge regarding Indigenous Peoples of the world and the relevant human rights standards adopted at the international level and in Australia.  Les Malezer is well known internationally for his work on human rights, and raising the profile of Indigenous Peoples in the United Nations and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.

He has travelled extensively, meeting with Indigenous Peoples living in countries such as New Zealand, USA, Canada, Panama, Guatemala, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, South Africa, India, Thailand, The Philippines, Taiwan, New Guinea, Fiji, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.