Aust has plenty to be proud of: Robertson

Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of Australia's most prominent human rights advocates, says the nation has much to be proud of but must not forget the importance of kindness.

The 71-year-old Sydney-born barrister, academic, author and broadcaster's resume is lengthy, having argued landmark cases in the European Court of Human Rights and appeared in courts from Malawi to Queensland.

Now he can add AO to the QC, with appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service to the law and the legal profession, as well as to legal education.

Given much the debate which swirls around Australia Day concerns the treatment of Indigenous Australians, the London-based human rights expert stresses the values of the early colonisers.

"If it is decided to change the date of "Australia Day", that should in no way detract from the memory of white Australia's founding father - Captain Arthur Phillip," Mr Robertson wrote to AAP from Brazil, where he is defending former president Lula da Silvia.

Captain Phillip "was a great humanitarian, and egalitarian, even sharing his rations with convicts, punishing marines when they attacked Aboriginals, and refusing reprisals, even when he was speared in the shoulder at Manly".

It is the First Fleet captain's "first law" of Australia as a "free country, where there can be no slavery", that Australia should adopt as a motto, says Mr Robertson.

The ideals of Captain Phillip were not shared by his successors in writing the constitution, particularly when it came to the treatment of indigenous people.

"We have to remember that back in 1901 our constitution was written by men who thought like Pauline Hanson and regarded Aboriginals as sub-humans who threatened the crops," he said.

"It's about time that we changed the constitution to reflect their original ownership of the country, and, in my opinion, to have their own place in its electoral system."

Australia's international human rights record is open to criticism, given the treatment of refugees and the unwillingness to recognise our indigenous people, however Mr Robertson says there is much to be proud of.

"No one has yet devised an index for humanity, but I think the Australian race would do reasonably well, except for its history of putting innocent people - refugees - behind barbed wire on inhospitable islands and for failures in respect of Aboriginal custody," he wrote.

"I hold the view that the most important human quality is the counterfactual capacity for kindness, or at least for care of others in distress. We have lost a lot of faith in churches, for good reason, but we should still remember the parable of the Good Samaritan."

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