2023: ‘We’re doing everything but Treaty’: Law reform and sovereign refusal in the colonial debtscape.

Dr Maria Giannacopoulos

Wednesday 18 October 2023


Mary Graham’s turn of phrase, ‘they got a country for free’ cuts right to the heart of the indebted nature of Australia’s colonial sovereignty and encapsulates the underlying criminality structuring ‘Australia’ and its economy. When land, subterranean earth and water are rendered freely available for use without payment, compensation or accountability to Aboriginal peoples, then this limitless accumulation of debt makes possible the very existence and economic standing of contemporary Australia. During the 2007 Global Financial Crisis, considered the worst since the Great Depression, when Australia was busy looking beyond itself to see sovereign debt and austerity, Tony Birch offered a sobering and urgent challenge to Australia: for sovereignty to become a viable concept for discussion among the wider non-Indigenous communities it must take responsibility for its colonial debts.

A country taken for free, the denial of responsibility for that theft and the unpaid debts it has accrued generates the colonial debtscape. Against this backdrop, Dr Maria Giannacopoulos examines the role of colonial law in seeking to displace treaty through reform. In 2023, as Australia pushes urgent calls for treaty aside and moves rapidly towards a referendum to alter but ultimately reaffirm a colonial legal system, the conversation on the role of colonial debt, its continual and ongoing accrual and the brutality of ongoing austerity in the settler colony is yet to take place.

Dr Maria Giannacopoulos

Dr Maria Giannacopoulos is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Crime, Law and Justice in the Faculty of Law and Justice at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She has degrees in law, literature, and a PhD in Cultural Studies and works across the disciplines of law and criminology to reveal the complicity of Australian law with ongoing colonialism.