Professor Megan Davis is a leading Indigenous Australian whose work influences law and Indigenous policy in Australia, particularly advancing constitutional reform and recognition for Indigenous Australians. As a drafter of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and former Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, she has been instrumental in driving an Indigenous human rights dialogue on a powerful and global scale.
Megan Davis is a Cobble Cobble woman from Southeast Queensland. From an early age Davis developed an interest in politics, the Australian Constitution and international law. Encouraged by her mother Dawn, Davis read a biography of Sir John Kerr in her final year of primary school and grew up with a poster of the United Nations General Assembly on her bedroom wall. At high school during the years when Paul Keating was prime minister of Australia (1991–1996), she was inspired by his focus on the ‘big picture’ issues, such as the republic, the welfare state and Indigenous issues.
Davis studied at the University of Queensland, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws in 1999. During this time Davis was a Legal Researcher with the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action and a Legal Cadet at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). In 1998, while still a student, Davis was a delegate for the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action at the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations and the World Intellectual Property Organisation Roundtable on Intellectual Property and Indigenous Peoples.
Davis has achieved a number of ‘firsts’ in her legal career. In 1999, she was the first Indigenous Australian to win a United Nations Indigenous Fellowship in the United Nations Office for Human Rights, based in Geneva. She helped draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In 2000, on her return to Australia, she continued her commitment to the creation of UNDRIP in working groups to further the draft of the Declaration, which was completed in 2005 and which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 2007.
In 2006, she became the first female Director of the Indigenous Law Centre (ILC) and Senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales.
In 2010 she became the first Indigenous Australian woman to be elected to a United Nations body, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and in 2015 was elected its Chair.
In 2016 she was the first female co-chair of the Ethics Committee of the Congress of First Peoples, which replaced ATSIC, after it was abolished in 2005.
In 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council elected Davis to the Human Rights Council’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNEMRIP), based in Geneva.
In 2017 she read out the Uluru Statement from the Heart at the completion of the National Constitutional Convention. Together with Auntie Pat Anderson she led the Constitutional Dialogue process over two years, and she has stated she is very proud of the consensus struck and the legal work undertaken to prepare people for the dialogue. (See https://stories.uq.edu.au/contact-magazine/2020/voice-treaty-truth/index.html)
In 2023, Professor Megan Davis is Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous UNSW and a Professor of Law, UNSW Law. She holds the Balnaves Chair for Constitutional Law and is an Acting Commissioner of the NSW Land and Environment Court.
She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences. She is a member of the NSW Sentencing Council and an Australian Rugby League Commissioner.
She has been active in advocating for change in the Australian constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples through a Voice to Parliament.
Megan Davis was interviewed in 2011 by Kim Rubenstein for the Trailblazing Women and the Law Project.
- In relation to a UN Declaration define:
- Professor Davis talks about being influenced and inspired by the ‘big picture’ issues in Australia as she grew up, especially during the Keating administration. With students:
- Define ‘big picture’ issues.
- Explore the issues mentioned by Professor Davis (the Republic Referendum, the welfare system, Indigenous issues).
- Have students identify current ‘big picture’ issues facing Australia today.
- Ask students to think regionally or locally about what ‘big picture’ issues impact them and their communities.
- Ask students to consider the challenges of labelling an issue as a ‘nationwide’ concern in a country as large and diverse as Australia.
- Professor Davis worked as part of a Secretariat working group which drafted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
- Using resources such as the Australian Women Lawyers as Active Citizens on the Australian Women’s Register, or the Australian Dictionary of Biography to explore other Australian women who have worked to improve the rights and recognition of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.