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Federal Government Apology


Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 21

“Sorry” heralds new start

The Victorian legal profession gathered in an emotionally-charged morning to commemorate the federal government’s apology for past injustices to Aborigines.

As members of the state’s legal profession attended the LIV to mark the federal government’s apology to Indigenous Australians, it was clear a great need to say and hear the word “sorry” was being filled.

On 13 February, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered Australia’s Indigenous peoples an historic national apology for past mistreatments and promised a future where all Australians would be equal partners, with equal opportunities.

The apology, and the following speech which gave an insight into the tragedy of the Stolen Generation, was broadcast from Parliament on television, radio and also the web.

Nationwide events to commemorate the occasion were held, including one at the LIV.

Mr Rudd’s speech, which was heard by the 130 attendees at the LIV, was followed by speeches from LIV president Tony Burke, Koori Children’s Court elder Pam Pedersen and Tarwirri, Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria, president Abigail Burchill.

Mr Burke told the LIJ it was a very moving occasion.

“The stories were powerful and evocative and the emotion in the room was palpable. There was something really uplifting about it.”

Ms Burchill said she didn’t expect to be as moved by the occasion as she was.

“For the Prime Minister to make such a sincere and emotional address affected me. He stepped forward reconciliation in this country.”

She said the inclusion of such a respected elder as Pam Pedersen as a speaker at the LIV occasion had really added to the event.

Those that attended the LIV included members of Tarwirri, Supreme Court judge and Judicial Officers’ Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Committee chair Justice Stephen Kaye and former chair and retired Justice Geoffrey Eames, Federal Court Justice Peter Gray, LIV Council members, representatives from law firms, the Bar and LIV staff including CEO Mike Brett Young.

Mr Burke said in his speech that the national apology was an occasion worth commemorating.

“I say commemorating, not celebrating.

“There has been an incredible outpouring of emotion leading to today’s apology. The apology, I think, has touched us all deeply.

“We now know that the majority of Indigenous children removed from their families were removed because they were Indigenous, not because of concern for their wellbeing.

“Harm was done. Lives were damaged. Families were rent asunder,” Mr Burke said.

Ms Pedersen spoke about the day being historic.

“I am extremely pleased that this Australian federal government has made a formal apology to the Stolen Generation. It has been a very long time coming.”

Ms Pedersen said the first ever inclusion of the “Welcome to the Country” [where Indigenous peoples were involved in the opening of Parliament the day before the apology] was another historic event.

“I am hopeful that these two significant actions mark the beginning of a new way forward in the relationship between government and Aboriginal people.”

Ms Pedersen related the story of her aunt who, as a young girl, was snatched from her mother at the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve.

“I hope that the Australian people will now fully embrace the truth about the children who were taken away and maybe understand the pain and sorrow felt by their families who were given no choice, no say in what happened.

“Finally the truth of the children removed from their families is being acknowledged by our Parliament. We are a better country because of our willingness to accept the truth and as we all know without truth there is no justice,” Ms Pedersen said.

Ms Burchill said by apologising the federal government was finally lifting the veil of denial from the story of the many generations of Aboriginal people stolen from their family.

“After 11 years, the Australian government is finally taking off the rose-coloured glasses and acknowledging history for its complexities and the gut wrenching and shameful events that have taken place,” a visibly emotional Ms Burchill said.

“This does not suffocate the nation with victimhood – it regards history honestly and highlights leaders who are courageous enough to lead this country and to set an example for every Australian that great wrongs have taken place and as a nation we are sorry.”

Ms Burchill thanked the LIV for marking the occasion by also offering a new annual Indigenous bursary for the College of Law.

“This creates essential opportunities to get Indigenous people into the legal sector and is a reflection of the LIV and the College of Law’s long and continuing support of Tarwirri.”

She said the fact that the LIV was offering a bursary showed that the federal government’s apology was not just empty symbolism but could lead to concrete change.

The bursary for one Indigenous law graduate to undertake the Victorian College of Law’s professional program was announced during the morning’s events.

The bursary is currently valued at $6280 and is an accredited course of practical legal training for admission as an Australian lawyer in Victoria.

Applicants must be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, must have fully completed their LLB at a recognised Australian university, must demonstrate financial, social or family hardship and also show personal contributions to the community.

Applications, which closed on 31 March, will be reviewed by a panel consisting of LIV president Tony Burke, LIV CEO Mike Brett Young and Tarwirri president Abigail Burchill.

The LIV bursary is in addition to the College of Law Victoria placement for an Indigenous law graduate to undertake the Victorian Professional Program during 2008. Applications for this bursary closed on 1 February.

The LIV has espoused the cause of Indigenous Australians in the legal profession, particularly in the past year.

Since April 2005, Tarwirri has been housed at the LIV. In February this year, Tarwirri moved into a bigger office space at the LIV and the organisation receives some administrative support.

The LIV and the Victorian Bar will support Tarwirri when it hosts the third Annual National Indigenous Legal Conference and inaugural Indigenous Legal Ball on 12-13 September this year.

Late last year the LIJ exposed the under-representation of Indigenous Australians in the legal profession in a series of articles, starting with its August edition “Breaking the barriers: Victorian Indigenous lawyers”.

The award-winning coverage raised national awareness of Indigenous lawyers’ aspirations to influence and assist the wider Indigenous population.

It also led to city and regional law firms introducing identified places for Indigenous law students and lawyers.

For the full text of the apology and Prime Minister Rudd’s speech, see

For the speeches made at the LIV, see and for more information on the LIVbursary for Indigenous law graduates, see

Michele Frankeni

Legal profession applauds apology

Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 22

The federal government’s apology to Indigenous Australians and the LIV event marking that occasion have garnered widespread endorsement from the legal profession.

“For the Prime Minister to make such a sincere and emotional address really affected me. He stepped forward reconciliation in this country.

“It goes down as one of the great moments in history like the bicentenary bridge walk or [then Prime Minister Paul] Keating’s Redfern speech.”

Ms Burchill said it was really significant that the LIV organised an event to commemorate the apology and praised the inclusion of Pam Pedersen, a respected elder with significant ties to the community, as one of the speakers.

Abigail Burchill
Tarwirri president and Yorta Yorta woman

“It was very moving and very significant that from the seat of democracy came such a sincere, unqualified apology for the gross injustices of the past.

“It is a beginning and has helped stimulate momentum to address 200 years of injustice.”

Justice Kaye said the profession has shown an enormous commitment to the issue of Indigenous Australians in the law.

“This has come from both solicitors and barristers, especially in assisting Indigenous students into the profession. The Bar has done this through its mentoring program, the LIV through assistance to Tarwirri.”

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye

Judicial Officers’ Aboriginal Cultural
Awareness Committee chair

“The apology was the right thing to do to show empathy, sympathy and acknowledge what happened.

“It was very well received by everyone at the LIV, and personally I believe it is a step in the right direction towards reconciliation.

“I would just like to see a follow through on the whole spirit of the reconciliation. We have had the rhetoric, it would now be good to see the practical.”

Mr Bokelund said the issue of compensation was separate to the apology.

“Just by giving an apology doesn’t mean there is a cause for action.

“They are two separate issues.”

Hans Bokelund
Victorian barrister and
Darumbal/Wakka Wakka man

“The LIV’s announcement on the day of the national apology that it will establish an annual LIV scholarship to be awarded to an Indigenous law student to fund his or her College of Law Victoria practical legal training shows real leadership and resonates with each and every partner and staff member at ABL.

“Through this and other measures, the LIV has been particularly powerful in its acknowledgment of the role the law has played in contributing to past and continuing Indigenous injustices and is now playing in overcoming those injustices.”

Peter Seidel
Arnold Bloch Leibler (ABL)
public interest law partner

“The apology has created an opportunity for us to move forward as a nation.

“I think one of the most terrible things about the Stolen Generation is the loss of the stories, the knowledge, lore and connection to the country which is fostered through the songs and stories.

“I would like to see work done on gathering those stories and knowledge as Indigenous heritage is different to white heritage. There is an antiquity in the stories of Indigenous Australians which needs to be passed on.”

As for the event at the LIV, Ms Kelleher said the speech by Koori Court elder Pam Pedersen was very moving.

“The fact that she told us her family story – her willingness to tell our professional body that story – was fantastic.

“I’m proud of the LIV for organising the event.”

Leonie Kelleher
Sole practitioner and organiser of regular trips for lawyers to the Arabunna Aboriginal
community at Maree, South Australia

“A nation needs to acknowledge its past, complete with positive and negative experiences, in order to meaningfully move forward.

“I was pleased that the apology extended also to the treatment of our Indigenous people generally. The unequivocal nature of his [Prime Minister Rudd’s] apology stands for me as a hallmark of our maturing nation.

“I can only imagine from a distance what that day must have meant to our Indigenous peoples. It has been a long time coming and well overdue. The speakers on the day gave further insights into the moment of this occasion for our indigenous people.

“I congratulate the LIV on marking the occasion with its own event.”

Harry Gill
Robinson Gill partner

Australia apologises

Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 23

On 13 February, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised on behalf of the nation to Indigenous Australians for past mistreatments. The following is the apology.

“Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”

Firm response to Indigenous issues

Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 24

Victorian firms are responding positively to the federal government and LIV’s lead in promoting Indigenous issues.

With the federal government’s formal apology to Indigenous Australians on 13 February, reconciliation and Indigenous issues are firmly back on the national agenda.

Victoria’s legal profession has also in the past year become increasingly aware of the under-representation of Indigenous Australians in its ranks.

This under-representation was highlighted by a series of award-winning LIJ articles, starting in the August 2007 edition, which outlined the issue and detailed moves by the profession and government to redress the imbalance.

Many firms have responded to the under-representation by providing identified clerkships for Indigenous Australians. Others, such as Arnold Bloch Leibler (ABL), have long championed the cause of Indigenous peoples.

ABL has also developed its own Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

At the time of writing, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin was scheduled to launch ABL’s RAP on 28 March.

ABL’s public interest law partner Peter Seidel said the RAP, the first of any law firm in Australia, would offer a number of features. These included:

  • offering a scholarship for an Indigenous law student and/or a long-term cadetship (similar to the national student support Doxa program) for an Indigenous law student, including part-time paid work;
  • offering access to a seasonal clerkship opportunity for Indigenous law students;
  • developing a relationship with, and financially supporting, organisations focused on building bridges to enable Indigenous students to network and participate in Victoria’s legal community;
  • offering a mentoring program for Indigenous law students;
  • delivering presentations to share the firm’s experiences with other professional service firms in running a public interest law practice, working with Indigenous clients and formulating a RAP; and
  • offering a match-making program for Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients and contacts.

Mr Seidel said ABL worked at a grassroots level to help address issues of inequality and the firm had a long history of assisting in empowering Indigenous people.

He commended the LIV for holding an event to commemorate the federal government’s apology and for its announcement on the day that it would establish an annual bursary for one Indigenous law student [see “‘Sorry’ heralds new start”, page 21].

“The LIV’s announcement ... shows real leadership and resonates with each and every partner and staff member at ABL,” he said.

ABL senior partner Mark Leibler AC is co-chair of Reconciliation Australia.

A key aim of Reconciliation Australia is to support and encourage organisations to develop their own RAP.

“It [a RAP] gives organisations a format for exploring how reconciliation can advance your business/organisational objectives as well as being an organisation’s public contribution towards the national effort to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children,” the Reconciliation Australia website said.

Other firms which have recently contacted Tarwirri, the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria, to discuss identified Indigenous placements at their firms include DLA Phillips Fox and Allens Arthur Robinson (AAR).

DLA Phillips Fox will run a winter clerkship program and expects to be able to offer up to two placements for Indigenous students.

The firm’s national human resources manager Cheryl Pople said the firm had invited applications from Indigenous and non-Indigenous applicants.

Tarwirri coordinator Aislinn Martin said the DLA Phillips Fox clerkships were being advertised to its members.

The winter clerkships will take place between 23 June and 11 July. Application assistance is available from Tarwirri and applications can be made through the firm’s website

Ms Martin last month also met with AAR representatives to discuss upcoming vacation clerkships in Melbourne.

She said it had been a productive meeting with AAR, which was encouraging Tarwirri members to apply for the clerkships.

AAR graduate resourcing manager Lauren Kenneally said AAR was not setting up a separate program but had realised that having one spot reserved for Indigenous Australians was a way of encouraging applications.

The firm takes about 100 vacation clerkships per year in Melbourne, spread over three separate times – winter, December and January.

For more information on the clerkships, contact Ms Martin on ph 9607 9474 or For more information on Tarwirri, see

Any firm which has programs for Indigenous law students and lawyers and would like their initiatives to be reported in the LIJ can contact managing editor Mick Paskos on ph 9607 9319 or email

Michele Frankeni


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